My friend Jake Novak writes exclusively for Seraphic Secret about an emerging trend in Hollywood: storylines that feature the crushing disappointment Millennials feel in their permissive Baby Boomer parents.
We all know the conventional wisdom about Hollywood and morality. The TV and movie business is filled with libertines and anti-family radicals who want to destroy the civil society with subtle and not-so-subtle messages.
That impression is mostly correct.
However, as much as Hollywood wants to play on the left wing political and cultural team, it also wants to make money and produce superior movies and TV. For all its faults, the American entertainment industry is still the best source of screenwriting, special effects, and everything else that translates into movie magic.
And that’s why when something new is percolating in American culture, especially if it’s something affecting the key entertainment target demographic aged 18-35 years old, talented Hollywood writer/directors will notice and find a way to portray it onscreen… at least that’s what the generous optimist in me says.
Something like that scenario is happening now based on a few movies I’ve seen lately that all have a fascinating message about the generational divide in America. I’ll focus on three movies in particular, but I know there are probably more that will come to mind. Each of these movies contain a key story arc where the Millennial generation main character clearly takes his or her Baby Boomer parents to task for not giving him or her moral, religious, or relationship guidance while they were children.
This message flies directly in the face of the generally accepted belief among most Baby Boomer parents that raising their children with strict moral/religious rules was unacceptable and harmful. It turns out, if these onscreen cries for help are to be believed, the opposite was true.
The first movie to do a definitive, non-preachy look at this was Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up.” The scene making this Millennial-to-Baby Boomer complaint couldn’t have been much clearer or handled with better humor than it was by Seth Rogen and the late Harold Ramis as Rogen’s confused and frightened father-to-be character loudly demands that Ramis, (playing his father), tell him how to handle this sudden catapult into adulthood. Ramis’ character simply smirks, notes that he’s thrice divorced, and confesses that he has no idea what to tell him.
In so doing, Ramis seems to embody an entire generation of lovable, but ultimately useless schlemiel parents who meant well but ultimately failed their kids by never teaching them what to expect of themselves or from their would-be lovers/partners/spouses in relationships.
Apatow revisited this theme most effectively in last year’s hit “Trainwreck” with Amy Schumer. Schumer’s father, played by Colin Quinn, actually DOES teach his daughters some guidelines about relationships in an opening flashback scene. But those lessons are clearly portrayed as all wrong as he lectures his pre-teen children about the evils of monogamy and fidelity just as his soon-to-be ex-wife is kicking him out of the house. Flashing forward to present day, Schumer’s character suddenly comes to the realization that she’ll never make her current relationship with her “Dr. Right” love interest until she casts off all she’s learned from her Baby Boomer father. Just in case the viewer doesn’t get this message clearly early on, Schumer’s father’s character actually dies just before she finally has her epiphany.
Apatow, a Gen X’er like me with an “in between” perspective on Baby Boomers and Millennials, uses the painful and too-delayed transition to adulthood as a key component of some of his other films like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” But he’s not alone. The decidedly Baby Boomer generation member Nancy Meyers has recently waded into this same subject matter with last year’s “The Intern.”
The film received mixed reviews but was a big money maker, grossing well over three-times its production costs. In the movie, a 70-year-old retired widower, played tenderly by tough guy Robert De Niro, gets a job as “senior intern” at a successful internet startup run by Anne Hathaway’s overworked but brilliant female lead. What seems like it’s going to be a classic fish out of water story turns into something much different as De Niro’s character ends up advising all the Millennials in the office on everything from how to dress, (the dress code issue is actually visited and re-visited several times), to how to carry out a dating relationship.
Predictably, De Niro’s character’s wisdom comes in to save the day for Hathaway’s company and her dicey personal life. Again, note that we’re reminded several times that De Niro’s character is exactly 70 years old which means that in this 2015 movie he is just old enough NOT to be a Baby Boomer. Meanwhile, Hathaway’s and the other Millennial characters’ Baby Boomer parents are notably absent but referred to unfavorably several times throughout the film. The allusions to failed Baby Boomer parenting aren’t very subtle.
Meyers has delved into generational conflict before. But in her other two successful films, “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated,” the plot centers on Baby Boomers acting like children as they come into conflict with generational peers who are actual adults. In “The Intern” Meyers seems to be once again taking many of her age group peers to task for forgetting to raise their children with any rules or guidance leaving them literally not knowing how to dress for work, let alone being able to juggle a work/life balance.
Robert has noted before a number of movies that make a clear message about the importance of guiding parents, especially fathers, (I know the 2002 film, “About a Boy” is one of his favorites in that vein). But now a new trend of films calling out parents of both genders to step it up seems to be emerging. And that is a Hollywood trend we applaud.
Jake Novak is Supervising producer and editorial columnist for CNBC.