The New Romantics?: Meryl Streep, contemporary romcom and the ‘graying’ of Hollywood cinema
Dr Deborah Jermyn, University of Roehampton, London
In a January 2010 profile of Meryl Streep, Vanity Fair proclaimed with some wonder that against all expectations in an industry seemingly preoccupied by youth, at the age of 60 the star had become Hollywood’s ‘new box-office queen’ (Bennetts, 2010). While Streep’s career might be considered exceptional by anyone’s standards in terms of longevity and critical success, as Bennetts noted, ‘even her most ardent fans, until recently, wouldn’t have linked her name with blockbuster receipts’ (ibid). Following the phenomenal success of Mamma Mia! (Lloyd, 2008) and Julie and Julia (Ephron, 2009), however, Streep became box-office gold. Since it has long been received wisdom in the industry that studio execs have little interest in films about women, and even less about older ones, Streep’s reinvention was all the more remarkable; nothing short of ‘a Hollywood revolution’, in fact, as her subsequent success in romcom It’s Complicated (Nancy Meyers, 2010) that same month underlined further still.

In this paper I will examine how Streep has evolved as a key star in the perceived ‘graying’ of contemporary Hollywood cinema, and particularly within a series of films which celebrate older women rediscovering romance. The stand-out success of Streep’s work in recent years has come to crystallise the sense that the industry is finally waking up to how it has long under-served – and indeed from a business perspective rather foolishly left unexploited – the burgeoning 50+, ‘baby-boomer’ audience. While one must be cautious not to essentialise audience tastes here, it might nevertheless be argued that within this demograph the popularity of Streep’s films suggests that it is often older women who are proving particularly key, returning to the cinema not only for films which are female-protagonist led, but very often for films within the ‘women’s genre’ of what might broadly be called ‘romances’.

Focusing on three films – Mamma Mia!; It’s Complicated; and Hope Springs (Frankel, 2012) – I examine how in these texts Streep has contributed not just to the reconfiguration of industry notions of what constitutes ‘mainstream Hollywood’, but of who and what is addressed by ‘romance’ in popular film, bringing the knotty issue of ageing to bear on both. From a thematic concern with the neglected arena of ageing and mother-daughter intimacy in Mamma Mia!, to the sexuality and desire of/for an older woman in It’s Complicated, to the quotidian details of a faltering long-term marriage between an ageing couple in Hope Springs, Streep’s films have instigated a re-articulation of who we imagine the mainstream audience, and what we imagine popular romance, to be.

Deborah Jermyn is Reader in Film and Television at Roehampton University and author of books including Sex and the City (Wayne State University Press, 2009) and Prime Suspect (BFI Macmillan 2010). Her essays on contemporary romantic comedy have appeared in CineAction, Celebrity Studies  and Continuum and she is the co-editor/editor of a number of collections, including Falling in Love Again: Romantic Comedy in Contemporary Cinema (IB Tauris, 2009) and Female Celebrity and Ageing: Back in the Spotlight (Routledge, 2013). She is currently developing a project on ‘the queen of romantic comedy’, director Nancy Meyers.


Sex and the City (Wayne State University Press, 2009):

Prime Suspect (BFI Macmillan, 2010):

CineAction (2011):

Celebrity Studies (2012):

Continuum (2013):

Falling in Love Again: Romantic Comedy in Contemporary Cinema (IB Tauris, 2009):…menuitem={1E8BB86C-2C2C-4769-A440-E6D2CA51E0D6}

Female Celebrity and Ageing: Back in the Spotlight (Routledge, 2013):