One of my last Sundance viewings was I’ll See You In My Dreams, a mild-mannered septuagenarian love-affair drama with Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott. We’ve all accepted the everything-older-is-younger theology (i.e., 70 is the new 60) and so it doesn’t exactly feel like a head-turner when Danner’s Carol Peterson, a widower somewhere around 70, hooks up with the same-aged Bill (Elliott), a mellow, white-haired dude who owns a boat. The only unusual and frankly unbelievable aspect is hearing that the slim, good-looking Peterson hasn’t been intimate with anyone for 20 years, which is when her husband passed.
Sam Elliott, Blythe Danner in a Sundance publicity photo for I’ll See You In My Dreams.
Everyone understands mourning and recovery, but pretty ladies in their 50s don’t become nuns because their husbands have died. Sooner or later they get back into it because sex is the nectar of life and the grand metaphor of appetite and engagement. Not schtupping means quitting on some level. It means you’re “too old”, and who wants to live a life that doesn’t include that intrigue? Not having sex is in the same boat as not enjoying good food, not hiking, not bike-riding, not petting your dog, not campaigning for a cause or a candidate, not laughing, not going to parties, not cooking, not visiting Italy, etc. It’s anti-life. Especially if you’re still slim and fetching, as Danner/Peterson clearly is.
Which is why it seems rather…well, surprising or curious that Danner has told Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson in a just-published interview that she was a little nervous about kissing Elliott because she’s out of practice. She says, in fact, that “I haven’t had a real kiss in 13 years,” or since her husband, Bruce Paltrow, passed on.
In other words, Danner has been celibate for a dog’s age. In a sense she’s become Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Or Dolores Hart. Or Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary. That goes against 21st Century behaviors and the general theology of “life is for living until you die,” but if Danner wants to shut that part of herself down, it’s her call.
I would never ask a woman of any age about her sex life, but if Danner had shared this information in an interview with Hollywood Elsewhere, I would have raised my eyebrows a tad. She’s starring in a movie about a woman surrendering to septuagenarian passion and she herself hasn’t been laid in 13 years? I would have thought to myself, “Really? Danner is a pretty lady. Highly desirable by over-50 standards. But she withdraws into a kind of cave after her husband passes and never comes out again? She’s famous, a lady of the theater, has money, gets around. And yet she’s eliminated eros? No wine or love or song, no one to hug and caress, no one to wake up with, no hunka-chunka in a desert spa or an old Italian hotel on the Adriatic coast?
It’s one thing if you’re no longer the hot ticket you once were and the pickings are slim, or if you’re living on a meager income in a retirement village. But if you’re Blythe Danner you go for it…right? Ask Jane Fonda — she’s spoken more than once about sex being better in her 70s than it was when she was younger. The whole publishing culture of therapy and self-improvement has been saying for eons that sex makes you live longer and feel better, and is an all-but-essential aspect of a spiritually healthy life as you get older.
Nobody’s saying Danner can’t live a life of abstinence, but Thompson doesn’t even touch the subject when Danner raises it. I asked Anne about it last night and she said it would have been rude to ask. No, it wouldn’t. It would have been rude if (a) Thompson had raised the topic herself or (b) if Danner was promoting a movie about the manufacturing and selling of farm equipment. But if you’re plugging a movie about falling in love when you’re 70 and you yourself have been totally out of the game since age 57, or when your husband died…it seems to me that would be a totally permissible subject to explore.