Usually one “sows wild oats” in youth, but this 2016 comedy from Andy Tennant (Ever After: A Cinderella Story, Sweet Home Alabama) flips the script and gives viewers two widows in the twilight of their lives who decide to go a little crazy.
Maddie (Jessica Lange) is more crushed learning that her sixty-something husband dumped her for someone a third her age than she was by his death, and Eva (Shirley MacLaine) feels bereft after her husband—also implied to be a cheater—dies. The set-up implies that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, and sure enough, when Eva receives an insurance benefits check for $5 million instead of the expected $50,000 she deposits it and talks Maddie into going with her on a Thelma-and-Louise-style binge in the Canary Islands. There they enjoy life to the fullest while unintentionally causing Eva’s daughter (Demi Moore) stress as the media gets wind of their escapades and the insurance company sends someone after them. But don’t expect a Thelma and Louise ending. Wild Oats is a positive film.
There’s a lot of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Wild Oats, and not just because an older cast of characters decides to really live life and sprint for the finish line rather than letting the finish line come to them. Tonally the films are similar, marked by warmth and a gentle humor, with pacing that befits a cast of sixty-somethings. The question, at least for a site like Family Home Theater, is how broad of an audience a film like this might have. That’s hard to say, especially in 2016, when an irascible old anti-establishment coot like Bernie Sanders captured the hearts and imaginations of Millennials.
There’s an anti-establishment vibe to Wild Oats too, though not a political one. It’s more a film about going against the grain, of living life to the fullest, of taking a chance—in other words, a message that might very well resonate with younger people who have been “feeling the Bern.” That trickle-down effect will probably only go as far as the last two years of high school, though. Younger than that, and I fear that younger viewers who tend to like a film only if they can identify with the characters might not be able to look past the wrinkles to see themes that do in fact speak to a broader audience. After all, they’ve got time. No need to worry about such things as living life to the fullest just yet, is there?
Wild Oats is rated PG-13 for “sexual content,” and I can picture a few “ewwwws” coming from younger viewers when Lange finds herself in a Mrs. Robinson situation and, ripping the shirt off a young man, turns into a bit of a sexual tiger. Nothing is seen, but his bare chest and her writhing send a pretty clear message. So does talk of “doing it,” and when Eva says it’s been seven years it might be a little disorienting for a younger audience who’s been doing the family head count (“Let’s see, three kids means Mom and Dad did it three times!”). So while this is a gentle film and the sex is underplayed, it’s not something pre-teens and under should see—unless Grandma or Grandpa just went off the deep end in your family.
The MacLaine-Lange pairing is good but not great, though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly why. Maybe it’s because you don’t feel any depth to their friendship, and they’re supposed to be best friends. Alan Arkin and Sarah Jessica Parker were originally cast as co-stars, and I can only assume that if they bolted for reasons other than scheduling it was because there’s even less depth to the supporting characters. Moore really has little to do, and the men who pursue these two women (and we’re talking about two very different types of pursuit) have only a little more. It’s really the MacLaine-Lange show, and the women seem to enjoy the spotlight in one of Hollywood’s rare films featuring older actresses as the romantic leads.
Wild Oats debuted on Lifetime before its limited theatrical release, and if you’ve seen Lifetime movies you know what to expect: nothing too complicated, nothing too crazy, nothing too original, and something that borders on the cheesy (especially the humor). That’s what we get here. Like the MacLaine-Lange pairing, the film is good but not great . . . no matter what your age.
Language: Surprisingly, one subtle f-bomb and a handful of other swearwords
Sex: No crucial body parts shown, but one graphic scene of implied sex along with a gentler one; sex talk includes talk of “doing it again” and how good one’s “ass” looks
Violence: Nothing here
Adult situations: The whole premise is a felony, and there is drinking and drunkenness
Takeaway: It’s nice to see the full range of human experience on the big screen, and I hope the Bernie phenomenon paves the way for even more films like this