My tatty old video of White Palace is dated 1990, the year the film came out. Nearly twenty years old; but the theme provides the same guilty pleasure now as it did then – older woman wowing much younger guy – and getting to keep him.
And why not? Women of a certain age have been seething in too much silence for years. Right back to the days of Pan’s People, through countless Page Three’s and top shelf magazines, we have to chagrin and glare it when our men exercise their biological right to be attracted to much younger babes. It’s biology, apparently, and therefore okay. As a wise woman said in City Slickers – “You’ll be dating sperm next.”
White Palace, though, is different, and goes a long way to redress the imbalance. In director Luis Mandoki’s film version of Glenn Savan’s novel, uptight widower Max crosses the path of middle-aged waitress Nora at White Palace, a burger bar. Later that night Nora picks him up in a barroom, takes him home and seduces him. Max, celibate for the previous two years, falls under her lusty spell in spite of himself – he knows she will never fit into his ordered, sophisticated world. Nora eventually makes a tough decision and leaves St Louis for New York to give Max his freedom. But does he really want it?
Sexy, slinky, sensuous Susan Sarandon as Nora! (She may have got an Oscar for Dead Man Walking, but she fooled no-one as a nun). Fag hanging out of her mouth in almost every scene, her slatternly house repels the tidy Max Baron (great name!), played by James Spader with barely more than a few subtle movements of mouth and eyebrows – but Nora is right, this man is really beautiful to watch – “especially naked, from the back.” Their sex is low-down and dirty – and funny. I love the scene where they thrash around on her couch, his hand lifts something – it’s a grimy sandwich and he flings it away and gets on with the business.
I’m not surprised that the film was reclassified from an 18 to a 15 in 2003 – because in spite of all the lusting and thrusting, there is not a huge amount of nudity, just the odd glimpse of splendid Susan’s shape. Like the best and most erotic sex, the sex in this film is mainly in the imagination.
Two outstanding scenes from the film are: firstly when Max realises he can’t just dismiss white trash Nora as a one-night stand and turns up on her doorstep. “I’m 43” she announces. “I’m 27” he replies. Then they grab each other. Joy! The second is the last scene where he tracks her down to New York where she is waitressing, lays her across a table, sweeping everything onto the floor, and snogs her – this being America, naturally there is much whooping and clapping, rather than complaints about broken glass and spillages. For me, this even tops the ending of An Officer and a Gentleman.
The last time I saw this was a few weeks ago with old friend Jillian, 60 going on 45. (Guilty? We pretended we were doing an Open University module). She was pensive, having recently been coaxed back onto the dating scene. Dates one, two and three had all confessed they were looking for someone younger. “They were all older than me and hideous!“ she hissed. “One was totally bald and had bunches of nasal hair!” There won’t be a number four.
I believe there’s hope for us yet. And this film celebrates that, gloriously. So remember the power and lure of experience: it’s a nice weapon to keep up your (long, concealing) sleeve.
Thanks Julie for sharing your Guilty Pleasure with us. And we’d love to hear from other Movie Talk readers too. So if you fancy getting on the Speaker’s Corner soapbox to vent your views, do get in touch. Have your say by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.