In its relentless search for the next big thing, Hollywood has come to a rather surprising conclusion: old age is all the rage. I'm not talking about real old people – they're boring and unglamorous, as thousands of over-50 and out-of-work actors will attest. I'm talking about playing old. Forget tackling an underdog sports star or a concentration camp guard – this season, a faceful of rubber wrinkles is the fastest route to the Oscar shortlists.
Meryl Streep started the trend in The Iron Lady, ageing by a couple of decades to play Margaret Thatcher in her dotage. More showy is J. Edgar, released next week. Leonardo DiCaprio, 37, below, plays the FBI director from his twenties up to his death, aged 77. His lifelong companion Clyde Tolson and secretary Helen Gandy (Armie Hammer, 25, and Naomi Watts, 43) also wrinkle and stoop before our eyes.
They do this by means of a truckload of liver-spotted prosthetics which make them look something like a hybrid of Benjamin Button and Bubbles from Little Britain. In other words, not in the least like a real old person but rather like Hollywood's idea of an old person.
You can see why director Clint Eastwood thought it would be a good idea – all three leads deliver impressive performances. But since you can barely discern DiCaprio beneath the latex jowls and pouchy eyes, and since he never looked like Hoover in the first place, the makeover is pointless.
How strange that, in an age where special effects whizzes can transform men into monkeys and make boy wizards fly, they cannot replicate the human body in decline. And how vain of Hollywood to think it can trick audiences into believing that it can.
* When I was a teenager, I had a Saturday job at the local library. It was mainly pushing around trolleys of Mills & Boon and Horrid Histories but occasionally I'd be ambushed by a reader on a mission. These encounters would often be the highlight of the morning: obscure queries about steam engines of the 1830s; unlikely looking pensioners asking for massage manuals; once, a request for a book about aromatherapy for cats. The beauty of it was that however bizarre, you would eventually find that someone had once written a book on the topic, or near enough.
My experiences, it seems, were far from unique. A London bookseller is now publishing a book of her own based on the eccentric requests she fields on a daily basis. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops features true-life queries from the hackle-raising "Do you sell Kindles", to the unbelievable "Was there a sequel to Anne Frank's Diary" and the hilarious "Do you stock "Tequila Mockingbird?" You don't find that kind of comedy on Amazon – one more reason why we'll miss the bookshops when they're gone.
* What's in a name? If you're the scion of a celebrity then the weight of associations can be crippling. The first daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, born last weekend, has been named Blue Ivy Carter. Why? It's thought the first name refers to her father's successful Blueprint albums, while Ivy is a play on the Roman numerals IV: four is her mother's favourite number and was the title of her last album. Both parents were born on the fourth day of the month, they married on 4 April and have matching IV tattoos.
The elaborate naming game recalls the Beckhams, who called their first daughter Harper Seven after her father's number at Manchester United. There is something a little unappealing about labelling babies with one's own career highs. Will politicians and bankers be next, naming their offspring Cannock Landslide or Christmas Bonus?
It could be that Beyonce and Jay-Z believe in nominative determinism: name a child after a platinum-seller and one day she too will top the charts. In fact, Blue Ivy has already become the youngest person ever to be credited on a hit single. Her cries feature on Jay-Z's "Glory" which entered the Billboard chart when she was just six days old. Perhaps a star is born after all.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies