(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, October 6, 2005)
I’m sick of the sight of Jodie Foster’s face. See, there’s this Flightplan billboard in my neighborhood, and every time I drive by it I’m subjected to Jodie’s face, 25 feet high and staring at me with wild, accusing eyes as I’m on my way to the Quickie Mart to pick up cat food.
The first time I saw that billboard, I thought that Foster looked… wrong, somehow. For as long as I can remember, she’s had the face of a fallen angel: astute, androgynous, eerily beautiful and utterly bereft of sex appeal. As a child actress she was precocious and shrewd to the point of being downright creepy, and as a young adult she seemed only marginally more human. In essence, she has always looked, well, perfect. To a fault. But on this Flightplan billboard, her face looks pale and puffy, a little loose in the jawline and thin in the lips. She looks like somebody’s mom. She’s played moms before and she plays a mom in this movie, but this is the first time she’s really looked like a mom, and frankly not exactly the MILF kind, either. All of a sudden, Jodie Foster looks middle-aged.
I’ve watched Brooke Shields go from an underage sexpot to an Amazonian has-been. I was there when Kiefer Sutherland was a baby-faced punk with an incongruous, grim reaper voice — exactly the kind of smug little bastard that today’s haggard-looking Sutherland tortures every other week on 24. I remember when Sex and the City‘s pre-menopausal maneater Sarah Jessica Parker was just a dorky, storky teenager looking for the right clique to join on Square Pegs. And if these actors I grew up watching are all getting old… Well, I guess that means I’m getting old, too.
When you don’t have kids, and when most of the people you know don’t have kids and you’ve all had the same jobs and apartments forever, time can really get away from you. You just muddle along from week to week and month to month, and then one night you’re flipping past Access Hollywood and you see that Charlie Sheen is turning into his dad. And then you realize you remember when Charlie Sheen’s dad looked younger than Charlie Sheen looks now. And then you turn off the TV and you just sit in the dark for a while.
Because we sometimes don’t see them for years at a time, it can seem like stars have aged a lot overnight. The last time you saw Jennifer Connelly she was chubby and soft and had boobs that seemed to fill half the movie screen, and then she turns up in House of Sand and Fog and she’s suddenly become a gaunt, pained-looking Serious Actress. David Bowie was still holding up pretty well the last time you caught one of his videos, but then you see him on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and from some angles he still looks like David Bowie and from other angles he looks like his own grandma.
There are those stars who seem to age very slowly if at all, they hold on to their youthful freshness for so long it just gets peculiar: your Johnny Depps, your Keanus, your Gina Gershons. Depp began his career playing an adult passing as a teenager on 21 Jump Street, and in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory he looked like a teenager passing as an adult. Michael J. Fox, Matthew Broderick and Seth Green all looked like teenagers for decades, and shifted over to adult roles very gradually. Due to Fox’s illness we don’t see him onscreen much anymore, but Broderick now looks like a graying, stressed-out teenager, while Green could probably still play kids if he felt like it. According to the IMDB, Green portrayed snarky teenagers from the early ’80s until well into the new millennium. Although he’s still perhaps best known for his role as the laid-back werewolf Oz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one has to wonder if Green is, in fact, a vampire himself.
Of course most stars aren’t so fortunate, and many of them attempt to fight the aging process with plastic surgery. But while this can sometimes be very effective, it can just as often be a ghastly mistake. I mean, have you seen Jessica Lange or Goldie Hawn lately? I’m sure they’ll look fine once their facelifts settle, but in the meantime, ouch. Some actors don’t have their first hit until relatively late in life (Kevin Costner, Sharon Stone, etc.), so they only get to be pretty for a couple of movies before Father Time starts to work his awful magic. Others begin their careers by playing teenagers, even though they’re actually well into their ’20s. Thus they seem to age with truly alarming speed – the casts of shows like Beverly Hills 90210 often look positively geriatric by the time they finally graduate from high school, with their youthful clothes and hairstyles a sad and futile effort to deny the truth.
The stars who do let themselves visibly age carry it off with varying degrees of success, with Clint Eastwood arguably being the gold standard: time has just made him more craggy, more ornery, and more Clint Eastwood-y. One would be tempted to conclude that the more dignified, adult stars carry their years better than the lightweight, silly ones, but that’s not always so: Harrison Ford has become an unrecognizable, sad-looking old duffer with Harrison Ford’s voice, while Jennifer Tilly somehow seems even more ridiculously sexy now that she’s pushing 50 (of course, she does make 47 look like 35).
While there can be a sadistic kick in watching certain, particularly obnoxious stars fade (Crinkle, Mel Gibson! Crinkle and sag!) it is important to bear in mind that none of us, with the possible exception of Seth Green, are getting any younger. As we watch celebrities wither before us, we’re withering along with them. At least, thanks to our blessed anonymity, we can be reasonably sure that strangers aren’t chuckling about our jowls and crow’s feet.
I’d never really given Jodie Foster much thought before, but now I find myself thinking back to where and who I was when I saw her in The Hotel New Hampshire, in The Silence of the Lambs, in Contact, in other movies better and worse. She’s been there my entire life, always just a bit older than me – an older sister kind of older. Though I don’t have any siblings in real life, in a strange way it does feel like I’ve grown up with Foster. I knew her when she was a tomboy with stringy hair and no hips, and here she is today, her otherworldly beauty dimmed but not completely gone, staring at me, unblinkingly, from that billboard. And I think I finally understand why that billboard upsets me so. I’m used to seeing Foster larger than life, defiant, strong, and untouchable. But now, even blown up 25 feet tall, she seems as small and fragile as the rest of us. She looks like she’s asking a question, and she desperately needs an answer. I wish I knew what to tell her.