MELINDA SUE GORDON/UNIVERSAL/COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION; JAMES HAMILTON/FOCUS WORLD/COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION
(Left to right) Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in “It’s Complicated” and Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman in “5 Flights Up.”
If comedy is hard, romantic comedy may be even harder. Which doesn’t mean Hollywood won’t keep trying — and we won’t keep buying. As A-list stars aged alongside the rest of us, rom-coms started taking on the joys and blunders of love amid grownups of middle age and beyond (for proof, see the new rom-com hit Senior Moment, with Jean Smart, 69, and William Shatner, 90). That those adults don’t always behave as such just goes to show that romance makes people nutty at every age. Check out these 13 fun films about grownup love and hijinks.
DON’T MISS THIS: William Shatner talks with AARP about Senior Moment and being a romantic lead at 90.
Desk Set (1957)
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn were a brand. No, not one of those one-word hybrid celebrity couples but something more legendary, artistically indelible. By the time the two appeared in this romp about a TV network research librarian (Hepburn) and the engineer (Tracy) brought in to introduce computers to the company, the pair had already traded barbs and longing looks in six romantic comedies. If legend is to be believed — and why deny ourselves the pleasure? — Hepburn said to Tracy when they met, “I fear I may be too tall for you, Mr. Tracy.” To which he shot back “Don’t worry, I’ll cut you down to size.” Talk about meeting cute.
Their ages when the film premiered: Hepburn 50, Tracy 57
Watch it: Desk Set, on Apple TV
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)
Leave it to the Brits to keep their finest employed in this retirement romp with plenty of heartache and nods to the wonders and fragilities of aging. Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and a trio of dames — Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Penelope Wilton — are among the codger lodgers who relocate to Jaipur, India, to live a dream retirement. Alas, the inn of the title is not quite the paradise promised in the brochure. Over time — and with the sweet intentions of the hotel’s young manager (Dev Patel) — it proves even better.
Their ages when the film premiered: Nighy 62, Wilkinson 63, Smith 77, Dench 77, Wilton 65
Watch it: The Best Marigold Hotel, on Hulu
How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)
Rom-coms were wasted on the young until female stars started being bankable beyond 30 — with help from this hit starring Angela Bassett as a hard-driving stockbroker and divorced mom on a Jamaican vacation, nudged by her best friend (Whoopi Goldberg) to give romance another spin. There she meets Winston Shakespeare (Taye Diggs in his big-screen debut). He may be 20 years younger, but he’s more than smitten. Talk about making whoopie! Critics didn’t swoon for it, but everybody loved Bassett, who won best actress at the 1999 NAACP Image Awards.
Their ages when the film premiered: Bassett 40, Diggs 27
Watch it: How Stella Got her Groove Back, on YouTube
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It’s Complicated (2009)
The slew of delightful comedies Nancy Meyers has written includes Private Benjamin, What Women Want, and Something’s Gotta Give. Until further notice, Meyers remains the premier scribe of adult-smart rom-coms. Okay, smart might be overstating the wisdom of Jake and Jane Adler’s marital-extramarital tango. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play a couple who embark on an affair after being divorced for 10 years. Lake Bell is Jake’s much younger wife. Steve Martin plays Adam, the divorce-burned architect with the gentlest of designs on Jane. John Krasinski is hilarious and touching as the soon-to-be son-in-law who can’t unsee his in-laws in a compromising moment.
Their ages when the film premiered: Streep 60, Baldwin 51
Something’s Gotta Give (2003)
Nancy Meyers’ comedy about the bumpy road to “age-appropriate” love delivers two movie-star turns of a particularly fine and mature vintage in the likes of Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Avid bachelor Harry Sanborn arrives at a Hamptons beach house with his presumptive paramour and plans for a frisky weekend. Only, a cardiac event renders him a not-entirely welcome guest in the house owned by his girlfriend’s mother, playwright Erica Barry. Meyers’ writing is witty, insightful – and compassionate. Nicholson and Keaton are damn funny. The fantastic ensemble includes Amanda Peet as Erica’s daughter; Frances McDormand as Erica’s sister, a women’s studies prof; and Keanu Reeves as the ER doctor with a hankering for Erica.
Their ages when the film premiered: Keaton 57, Nicholson 66
Watch it: Something’s Gotta Give, on Amazon Prime Video
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Set It Up (2018)
In this Netflix original, Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs are exacting bosses Kirsten and Rick. They are so demanding that the only way their overtaxed assistants Charlie and Harper (Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch) see any hope of having lives is by getting the two to fall for each other. And so the conspiracy begins. It says something about just how astounding the dearth of rom-coms featuring intendeds of color and a certain age is that Liu and Diggs are really mostly charming foils to the main draws, the movie’s twentysomething stars. That said, the pair make great use of their magnetism — both personal and together as the tricked pair.
Their ages when the film premiered: Liu 50, Diggs 47
Watch it: Set It Up, on Netflix
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Sophie Sheridan is hardly the first comedy character to devise the reunion between estranged parents. But she may be the first to invite three could-be dads to her wedding unbeknownst to mom. Sophie’s choice to keep Donna — Meryl Streep — in the dark is surely nuts, but it also comes with three rather scrumptious delights. In this jukebox musical adaptation, possible papas Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth arrive to the big-fat-Greek-Island wedding, to the delightful unnerving of the mother of the bride.
Their ages when the film premiered: Streep 59, Brosnan 55, Skarsgård 57, Firth 48
Danny Collins (2015)
Al Pacino tempers his “hoo-ah” tendencies with hangdog remorse and understated hope in this dramedy of an aging rocker whose excesses have caught up with him. After rediscovering his muse — thanks to a letter John Lennon penned him — Danny leaves L.A. to hole up ad write music in a New Jersey hotel. Danny’s manager, played by Christopher Plummer, discovers the undelivered missive. Bobby Cannavale is the son he never knew. Annette Bening brings a quiet and beguiling integrity to her role as the hotel manager on whom Danny sets his sights. As she tentatively roots for him, so do we.
Their ages when the film premiered: Pacino 75, Bening 57
Watch it: Danny Collins, on Amazon Prime Video
5 Flights Up (2014)
Romantic comedies don’t have to be about hooking up, breaking up, hooking up. Sometimes they’re about moving in tandem through life’s challenges. Who knows that better than those who’ve stayed for the course? And if those long marrieds happen to be infused with the wit and charm of, say, Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton, all the better. New Yorkers Alex and Ruth don’t think they can maneuver their walk-up any longer (neither can their aging dog), and so they embark on a mission — amusing but also tender — to find a more forgiving abode.
Their ages when the film premiered: Freeman 77, Keaton 68
Watch it: 5 Flights Up, on Netflix
The Leisure Seeker (2017)
The script for this film may sputter at times, but the dynamic duo propelling this remake of an Italian movie purrs. Ella, the always sharp-witted Helen Mirren, engineers a pilgrimage to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West haunts for her increasingly forgetful husband, John (Donald Sutherland). While this romantic, sometimes comic road movie loses its way again and again, Mirren and Sutherland know where they’re taking us emotionally without fail.
Their ages when the film premiered: Mirren 72, Sutherland 82
Watch it: The Leisure Seeker, on Amazon Prime Video
The Love Punch (2013)
Rom-com chemistry can be decidedly lab-engineered. But when the elements bind what fun. This super-silly lark pairs Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson as exes Richard and Kate Jones, who are on a mission to recover their stolen nest egg with a bit of payback thievery. Abetting them are their old — not so very old — friends, gamely played by Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie.
Their ages when the film premiered: Brosnan 60, Thompson 54
Watch it: The Love Punch, on YouTube
Hope Springs (2012)
Even if the marriage is a little broke, Arnold Soames (Tommy Lee Jones at his most curmudgeonly) is in no rush to fix it. Loving but yearning wife Kay (Meryl Streep) wants better. And so she signs them up for a weeklong couple’s counseling intensive in Maine with Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell). A weeklong at Bernie’s? Forget what could go wrong — what might go right?
Their ages when the film premiered: Jones 66, Streep 63
Watch it: Hope Springs, on Hulu
The Upside of Anger (2005)
This 2005 romantic dramedy rides the wave of a genius pairing: Kevin Costner and Joan Allen. He’s a former baseball player who’s now a sports talk host. She’s the mother of four daughters, played by then up-and-comers Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell and Alicia Witt. As the film opens, Terry (Allen) is furious that her husband has left her for his secretary and inflames her ire and self-pity with booze. She finds a fellow, although kinder and gentler, tippler in neighbor Denny (Costner). The stars make for a match that is unmatched. They provide a portrait serrated and tender at the same time.
Their ages when the film premiered: Allen 49, Costner 50
Watch it: The Upside of Anger, on Amazon Prime Video
Lisa Kennedy, a regular AARP film critic, is a former Village Voice editor (1986-96) and Denver Post film critic (2003-15) who writes on popular culture, race and gender for Variety, The New York Times, Essence, American Theatre, the Denver Post, and others.