I, for one, am looking forward to the forthcoming Wild Hogs movie, already a huge smash-hit in the US, giving John Travolta his biggest-grossing opening weekend ever. It's one of those bittersweet takes on the male midlife crisis, with Travolta and other big names (William H Macy, Tim Allen, Ray Liotta) burning up the tarmac in a motorbike club - wearing leathers, speeding down highways with the wind in their helmets, having risky adventures, falling off occasionally for comic effect. And of course 'finding themselves' along the way.
It all sounds great fun. Though admittedly, not entirely unlike films such as City Slickers (middle-aged men take to horseback; finding themselves along the way), or Sideways (middle-aged men search for fine wine; finding themselves along the way). All of which is fine until you try to recall the great female midlife crisis icons in cinema over the past few decades. You eventually dredge up 1989's Shirley Valentine (gets off with dodgy Tango-tanned waiter; finds herself along the way), or the Annette Bening character in American Beauty (weeps and vacuums semi-clothed; doesn't find herself along the way). And ... outside France and Spain, that's about your lot. At which point you think: hang on, something seems a tad unfair here.
Why is it that movies always make the male midlife crisis look, ironically enough, like the biggest laugh anybody could have, while the few featuring women tend to come across like something any self-respecting female would kill herself with an overdose of HRT to avoid? It can't be mere coincidence that the 'boys' get given all this fun stuff to do while they endure their on-screen existential crisis - playing around on motorbikes, sourcing great Pinots, rounding up cattle. By contrast, all Pauline Collins's Shirley ever got to do was hump a strangely orange Tom Conti on a downmarket beach.
According to a male acquaintance of mine, the reason characters such as those in Wild Hogs are enduringly popular, not to mention numerous, is because they are secretly viewed by men as being on a par with suburban freedom fighters - kind of Che Guevaras of the mowed Sunday lawn. They represent guys who have tossed aside the stale air of failed lives and escaped the rut. And if a woman a decade younger happens to be around (in Wild Hogs's case, Marisa Tomei), who's complaining? According to my friend, it is 'the greatest male fantasy of all - the last yahoo'. What about the female midlife crisis? 'That's different,' he said. 'You're not supposed to have them, and if you do, you're boring about it. You just look in the mirror, have Botox and cry.' The inference being that not even lottery money was ever going to finance that
In this way, such films seem to be the red Porsches of the cinematic world - a howling show of male virility, not least in terms of star power. Fair enough, but it comes to something when the last time an actress over 35 had any real 'freedom-fighting' fun in cinema was in Thelma and Louise, and even they had to drive off a cliff top and die in order to 'find themselves'. None of which is so surprising - Hollywood sexism is hardly the world's foremost oxymoron. However, what men might find surprising is that, from the female point of view, we don't want to stop their fun (honest). It's more that we want in.
Contrary to popular belief, most women do not begrudge men their wild midlife flights of fantasy. It's more that, cinematically, and otherwise, we want a piece of the action. For some time, the smart female cookie has known that the only way to do the midlife crisis is to go 'male'. What woman in her right mind would want to sit in a dark room, weeping and planning a secret face-lift, when she could be zooming around in open-top cars, embarrassing the bejesus out of her children? In this spirit, Hollywood take note, it wouldn't hurt to see a few midlife crisis movies featuring female protagonists - nothing too racy, and definitely nothing called Wild Dogs: just a bit of biting off beer-bottle tops with teeth, zooming along motorways and contemplating bizarre couplings with the odd hunky hitchhiker. Along the way, we might even 'find ourselves'.