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Seniors' laughs defy a stereotype

Far from target age, a cinema class of senior citizens enjoys a bit of Hollywood raunch.

May 28, 2011|Sandy Banks
  • Filmgoers from a cinema class in a college program for older adults buy tickets for Bridesmaids. I was embarrassed, but I laughed, one said later.
Filmgoers from a cinema class in a college program for older adults buy tickets… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

The invitation arrived via email, from a reader whose age I could guesstimate by its boldface, 36-point type.

Ruth Bartnof, age 88, was inviting me to join her cinema class on its final movie outing this semester. Every Wednesday afternoon, the group has gone to the Laemmle Theatre in the Fallbrook Center to watch a film with their professor, then discuss it in the theater lobby.

Wednesday also is senior discount day at the seven-screen complex in the west San Fernando Valley. Admission is $4.50 for anyone 62 and older.

The crowd tends toward "seniors carrying canes, walkers, wheelchairs; hard of hearing and sometimes cantankerous," Bartnof's email warned me.

The movie they planned to see was "Bridesmaids," a ribald comedy about a quirky bunch of 30-something women planning a wedding; heavy on sex talk and gross-out jokes.

I could already see a knee-slapper unfolding: shocked old ladies who'd sooner swallow their dentures than laugh at crude hookup jokes.

Shows how much I know about old ladies, and the bonding power of well-written jokes.


The weekly cinema outing is part of Pierce College's Encore program for "older adults," where classes range from "Basic Email/Internet" to "How to Impress Your Grandchildren & Other Adults When Visiting the Zoo."

Ken Windrum teaches the cinema course. Each week his students vote on which movie to watch and discuss; films such as "Human Resources Manager," the winner of Israel's best picture award; and the Danish drama about bullying, "In a Better World."

And then there's "Bridesmaids," which won out over "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

There was "zero interest" in the 3-D swashbuckler, which is raking in hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.

"There's not much to talk about with this movie," Windrum told me, as he handed out "Bridesmaids" reviews in the Laemmle lobby. "I imagine the discussion will be short."

He sounded apologetic. But the discussion had already begun, among the elderly women at the check-in table.

Sally's not coming. She's already seen it.

What did she think?

It was raunchy. She loved it. LOVED it!

Theater manager Tami Darrell wasn't surprised by the repartee. "We sold out 'Wedding Crashers' with people over 70," she said. "It's not just the PG stuff they like. You should be here when 'Hangover' plays next week."

It's not just what's on the screen that draws them. In addition to the cinema class, hundreds of seniors turn out each week, grateful for the theater's single-floor layout, staggered seating with room for wheelchairs and old-fashioned seats that don't slide or rock.

The neighborhood, a few miles from Warner Center, has lots of senior apartment complexes. "They come by the busload," Darrell told me, "and line up before the theater opens."

I met women fresh from the beauty parlor, rouged and lipsticked; a couple giddy with first-date magic heading toward a Will Ferrell drama; a woman holding the hand of her elderly dad as he made his way slowly through the ticket line.

Darrell keeps plastic cups stacked at the water fountain, so thirsty guests don't have to bend over.

"The staff is so patient and helpful here," Bartnof said when we met, lowering her voice to a whisper. "We can be a little troublesome, you know.

"Some of the seniors aren't so easy to deal with. They complain about waiting in line, the heat … they get to the door and can't find their tickets."

But at least they turn their cellphones off. "Sometimes," Darrell said, "they have to ask us to help them."


"Bridesmaids" was impossible not to enjoy, once I got over the weird discomfort of watching a movie aimed at women my daughter's age, surrounded by women a generation older than me.

We all laughed — although sometimes at different things. I got the jokes about hookup sex. Bartnof, sitting next to me, cracked up at the tampon reference. The movie's themes of female friendship, growing pains and fitting in hit the mark when the humor missed.

Afterward, some of us still chuckling, we gathered in the lobby in plastic chairs, while the professor launched his analysis: its entertaining, yet formulaic mix of "sentimentality and vulgarity"; its questionable profit potential in a male-dominated comedy genre.

When Windrum asked who thought the movie was good, almost every hand went up.

"I never would have gone to see it if we hadn't picked it as a class," Bartnof said, when he called on her. "But I really laughed. Out loud! I was embarrassed, but I laughed."

No one was bothered by the language. "I've heard the f-word so much, I find myself saying it sometimes," said one soon-to-be 89-year-old. A few were offended by the sexual exploits. "Good laughs, but too much sex," one woman complained.

"That," Windrum told her, "is like saying you went to see a western and were annoyed by all the riding on horses." He reminded us that the target audience was 18 to 40; we were all on the far side of that demographic.

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