Sarah Caden: 'The same old story of a Hollywood star's love life'
Is it still OK for Leonardo DiCaprio to be romancing girls under 25 when he's middle-aged? Sarah Caden doesn't think so
Anyone who has been on holiday in Italy or Greece or around the Med has seen the men on their boats with their girls.
I say girls, because the age difference between the men and their sailing companions makes that choice of word appropriate. In comparison with the men, they are girls.
It's nearly laughable sometimes. Except it's not. Not really. Post #MeToo, we don't blithely laugh off the tendency of older men to desire a very young woman on their arm. We don't dismiss it as harmless vanity. We have no illusions about who holds the power in a lot of these scenarios.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
Last week, Leonardo DiCaprio and Sean Penn seemed so much like those men on the Med, and their partners, Camila Morrone and Leila George D'Onofrio, appeared to be the girls.
DiCaprio and Morrone, the stepdaughter of Al Pacino, had been cruising around on a large yacht for a while, and had been papped enjoying PDAs, often through very long lenses.
The photos drew a lot of attention.
The fact that he is now in his mid-40s and looking decidedly 'dad-bod' beside his 22-year-old girlfriend provoked some of the comment. Not allowed any more to mention a man's physical condition? Apologies, but it's so easy to make that mistake after a week of reading about Camila "sizzling" in her swimwear while at sea with the star.
It was the case, however, that Leo suddenly looked decidedly middle-aged - as he should. He's getting older, but, his partner is approximately the age of every other girlfriend he's ever had. As one American magazine pointed out, Leo hasn't dated a woman over the age of 25 since he himself was 25. And that's nearly 20 years ago.
Morrone was born the same year Titanic was released.
Leo's long-running preference for younger partners has done him no harm in the eyes of the public, not even post-#MeToo. That, however, can be put down to the fact that this only becomes an issue as the age gap widens. If you're 30 or 35 and still dating younger women, that's hardly remarkable.
If you continue to age upwards but the age profile of your partners remains static, it turns into something else - something that, these days, can make people uncomfortable.
Still, no one ever really calls out Leo, maybe because we continue to perceive him as young. No doubt it's how he still perceives himself.
But when Sean Penn came aboard the yacht in Italy last week, it was like his presence put years on Leo. If a young woman on a man's arm can potentially make him seem younger and more virile, that is shattered when you add another, slightly more advanced middle-aged man and his much younger girlfriend.
At sea with Leo and Camila, Sean Penn and Leila George D'Onofrio seemed to be having a ball. Penn maintains an edgy rebellious outsider look that he can still get away with at the age of 56.
D'Onofrio, an Australian-American actress and daughter of actor Vincent D'Onofrio, is 27. They've been dating since the end of 2016.
It all looked like fun and they all went ashore at night to the Italian town of Nerano for dinner.
If you didn't know that DiCaprio and Penn are who they are, and if the young women weren't behaving romantically at the table, you'd be forgiven for taking the gathering to be a family one. You'd be forgiven for seeing a fathers-and-daughters scenario, and, yes, it is relevant that Sean Penn has a daughter only a year older than his girlfriend. As well as a son only a year younger.
But if we're calling out Leonardo DiCaprio on the ever-increasing age gap between him and his girlfriends, what are we actually taking issue with?
We don't have any entitlement to say what his sexual or romantic preference should be.
Equally, Sean Penn, twice married and twice divorced, both times with women close to his own age, can find happiness wherever he sees fit.
Our sexual and romantic tastes are mysterious - that's partly what makes them exciting. They don't necessarily tie in with who we are in the rest of our lives. They don't necessarily make sense, even to us.
But the fact remains, we now inhabit a world that places great store in being aware and awake to the fact that behaviour we once accepted is now up for scrutiny.
Hollywood is quite delighted with itself of late, attempting to reset its attitudes to both older and younger women - with the habit of older men consorting only with young and beautiful women among the resets.
That doesn't necessarily mean we can disapprove of who Hollywood stars choose to have a relationship with.
What we can say, however, is that it no longer slides under the radar or goes unnoticed when older movie stars take the younger-model route, especially not repeatedly.
DiCaprio turns 45 in November. The generation-gap optics aren't one of those things that get better with age.