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Break down with these on-screen midlife crises

A New Year equals a new you, right? Heed these wary tales of road trips, seedy affairs and potent pot smoking antics, and crash through 2015 in style

This Friday sees the release of Birdman, a film about Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor once famous for his role as a superhero struggling to reinvent himself. Fantasies of a comeback blur with reality – has he turned himself into a bona fide villain-smiting, building-smashing city saviour? As Hollywood serves up yet another digitally enhanced crash-athon with a heart, we ask: what exactly do you do when you reach the crest of life and see nothing exciting over the hill?


Lester (Kevin Spacey) identifies himself as a typical suburban loser, so swaps one cliché for another. Ignited by an infatuation with his 16-year old daughter’s pretty classmate Angela (Mena Suvari), he quits his job, buys the car of his dreams and indulges in some potent pot.

DON’T: Think you’re alone. While Lester wrestles with weird rose petal fantasies, his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) embarks on an affair, only to be dismayed at her husband’s indifference. Hyper-masculine homophobe-next-door Col Fitts (Chris Cooper) throws his son out for being gay, only to try it on with Lester himself.


Wine aficionado Miles (Paul Giamatti) takes his friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a two-man stag party through the vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley. Falling for the first waitresses they meet who promptly break Jack’s nose on learning the truth, their attempt at one last blow out only emphasizes rather than obscures their middle age. Hangover Parts 1, 2 and 3 this is not.

DO: Find yourself. Each hit rock bottom – Jack might leave all his clothes and wedding rings in a married woman’s bedroom, Miles might down his prize wine in a motel room, but it is their vulnerability that endears these characters and ultimately leads to their way through.


Best friends Thelma and Louise set off in Louise’s 1966 Thunderbird convertible to escape their humdrum lives as ignored wives. Fending off an attempted rape a little too forcefully, they snowball from one misdemeanour to another, on the run from their past, near and distant.

DO: Have fun or die in the attempt. Thelma and Louise might screw up their holiday, land in trouble with the law and trash their lives, but a girly road trip with a shotgun has never looked so fun.


Randy (Mickey Rourke) was a sell-out star in the 1980s, but is now begging for extra shifts at the grocery store to fund the steroids and spray tan habits. Open heart surgery forces him to quit wrestling, but eviction from his trailer and rejection from his estranged daughter and then 43-year old stripper girlfriend suggests his life outside the ring is a fight he has lost. A final comeback is too tempting to resist.

DON’T: Listen to the haters. Theatrical and vain, wrestling makes a middle age man seem particularly pitiful. By setting the tale of burned out athlete in the ring, Darren Aronofsky highlights the torment of a person facing demise.


Originally titled Romauld et Juliette, a white CEO (Daniel Auteuil) is fired over a food poisoning scandal in his company’s product. Only the black cleaning lady Juliette (Firmine Richard) can testify to his innocence, a chance meet that leads to one of the sweetest on-screen romances in cinema history.

DO: Keep heart and mind wide open. Swapping a plush house, small family and even a mistress for a life mucking in with Juliette’s five kids to five different dads in a tiny council flat, Romauld reconnects with a mischievous, chaotic and passionate side of life.


Featuring that gust of wind up the skirt, this film originally appeared as a Broadway musical. Tom Ewel plays a man left at home while his family take off on holiday. All well and good, only the audience know he is suffering from a marital discomfort commonly supposed to arrive after seven years of marriage, and who should the girl next door be but Marilyn Monroe herself.

DON’T: Invite the sexy neighbour over, no matter what the pretext. A slapstick take on marriage wobbles during the post-war restoration of good ol’ family values.

LANTANA (2001)

Anthony LaPaglia plays Zat, a middle-aged policeman bored with his marriage, who starts to play away from home with a woman he met at a salsa class. His wife Sonja (Kerry Armstrong) senses things are awry and sees a therapist (Barbera Hershey) whose marriage to law professor (Geoffrey Rush) is still reeling from the death of their 11-year old daughter. A secret web of connections are revealed when Dr Somers goes missing and Zat is on duty to piece things together.

DON’T: Try to fix your marriage with an affair. In this award winning take on the human condition, the sense of loss at the identity of self we face at a certain point is elegant and tragic.


Ray Winstone plays an ex-gangster who is living out his days grilling his corpulent frame beside his swimming pool in Spain. Ben Kinglsley plays a hard-faced geezer who shows up to draw him back to Blighty for one more job, a challenge to his identity he can’t refuse.

DON’T: Give up the day job. Like The Wrestler, this brilliantly dark and brutal film shows the occupational hazards of certain jobs make midlife crises particularly disastrous.


Amongst the neon signs and sleek hotel bars of Tokyo, Bob (Bill Murray) feels cut adrift from his life. The surreal task of advertising Scotch in Japan adds to his unease. He happens on Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a twenty-something yet to settle on a vocation in life, there to accompany her husband who is off making films. 

DO: Find a friend. Without loneliness to taunt him, Bob can take the sting out of his crisis of identity. Charlotte’s own soul search can be read as the ultimate Generation Me phenomenon – the quarter life crisis.


Gender benders can have moments of self-doubt, too. Bernadette (Terence Stamp) is a transvestite whose husband Trumpet has just passed away. For a little post-funeral distraction, she embarks on a madcap adventure across Australia in a bus with extrovert drag queens Tick (Hugo Weaving) and Adam (Guy Pearce), which inevitably breaks down in the middle of the bush. 

DON’T: Dismiss the mechanic. Bob (Bill Hunter) might scream outback realness, with his mail order bride and greasy overalls, but he proves a kindred spirit for Bernadette. They prove to be exactly what the other is looking for in resettling their view on life.