Skip to main content

You don't have to be alone forever.

The Age of Adaline
(2015)

(SPOILERS) I wouldn’t exactly say I had high expectations for The Age of Adaline, but I did think it sounded intriguing, in a The Curious Case of Benjamin Button kind of way. Further, it suggested the sort of fare that might catch the general public’s romantic imaginations. That it all but fizzled at the box office isn’t, alas, the injustice of a bunch of hard-hearted ingrates ignoring a precious pearl but a reflection that the picture, in some fairly fundamental ways, stumbles in its ambitions.


Blake Lively is Adaline, a 107-year-old woman who doesn’t look a day over 29. The reason for her eternal youth? A bolt of lightning struck her drowned body after her car plunged into a ravine in 1937. The precise scientific underpinnings of this event are, we are informed in a narration redolent of Amelie (conscious on the part of the writers, and delivered by Hugh Ross, who also did duties on The Assassination of Jess James by the Coward Robert Ford), not due to be understood until 2036.


From here, Adaline soon learns she needs to keep on the move, like a Littlest Hobo but one taking a decade between stops, or Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. She’s had a brush with the FBI, who want to learn her preternatural secrets, but more than that, she knows she can’t just settle down and grow old with someone. She keeps in contact with her daughter (grown up and played by Ellen Burstyn) but she shares constant companionship only with the latest in a string of perfect pooches.


So this is ripe for something resonant, tragic, moving. All those things that require a good strong hanky. Yet Connor McLeod’s loss of Blossom in Highlander (a fairly brief sequence) packs more punch than anything here, a sign of how safe and untroubled Adaline’s passage is. She’s confronted by no profound events; not the loss of her daughter, not even a husband or love (her husband dies before her condition makes itself known, while she later skips out on any relationships she starts). 


Lively, whose name should be a warning of what she isn’t, actually imbues Adaline with an almost appropriate reserve, but is missing something an actress with more forcefulness could bring to the table, to make up for the shortfalls of the script. Adaline drifts through events with barely a flicker of distress, or deeper feeling, and then, when she falls for a bit of a dick, we wonder if she’s learnt nothing during that century (other than a couple of handfuls of languages).


Yes, The Age of Adaline is one of those movies that fundamentally fails to get its romance right. Michiel Huisman, not exactly portraying the most scintillating character in Game of Thrones, imbues young pup and all-round philanthropist Ellis with nothing short of pervasive shallowness. We can’t for the life of us work out why Adaline is so smitten with this preening poseur, unless she’s just as shallow.


Also, like many a movie of his ilk where the central romance doesn’t catch fire as it should, the most rewarding aspect is of the subplot variety. Here there’s a particularly idiosyncratic one, in that it comes via Ellis dad, none other than Harrison Ford playing William Jones, a man Adaline had an affair with in the ‘60s but whom she left on a park bench when she saw he was going to propose (YouTube young Ford imitator Anthony Ingruber makes a decent fist of young William, although the jury’s out on whether he could do a passable young Solo). Ford is great, his first proper “normal” character in recent memory, and he’s well matched by Kathy Baker (under-used but note perfect) as his wife Kathy. There’s a finely judged scene prior to William realising Adaline is his Adaline (not her daughter) where William is mooning down memory lane and Kathy quite understandably becomes upset at the thought of someone supplanting her in his affections.


It’s the more disappointing then that this strange generational ménage-a-trois is fudged in order to smooth over any suggestion of rough edges. The weirdness of dad’s love being son’s love is brushed aside when William magnanimously instructs his son to pursue Adaline. Just to underline the point, lest we feel the might be some unresolved tensions, William is given a fortieth wedding anniversary speech where he confesses Kathy is the love of his life. It’s all too neat.


And too neat is also how the picture resolves itself. The mid-section, where William is introduced, gives Adaline a welcome spark, distracting from dull Ellis. It underlines the Amelie inspiration of screenwriter J Mills Goodloe (co-credited with Salvador Paskowitz), where synchronicities fashion the fates of our protagonists. The cosmic order of things comes into play here, such that a meteor strike in 1178 was responsible for a snowstorm leading to the cancellation of Adaline’s prolonged lifespan. While I quite like the tone of the assured narration, it doesn’t really fit content it’s impossible to feel much for, and it lacks the irrepressible quirkiness of Amelie. Neither do we feel the cosmic scale, the push and pull, the loss and gain.


William named a comet after Adaline, one that failed to show, until Adaline returns into his life. At which time, events conspire, enormously conveniently, to grant Adaline the ability to age again; she is left to die in a hit and run, she dies and is resuscitated. Later, she plucks a white hair. It’s nothing less than an easy cheat, particularly to bring her together with someone as banal and superficial as Ellis.


So The Age of Adaline lacks impact, meteoric or otherwise. It’s amiable but rather empty. There’s a worthwhile tale in there, one about loss, grief, and abiding, and we glimpse that when Ford enters the scene, but it’s handicapped by leads who fail to get to grips with their characters recesses and a screenplay that pulls its punches, reluctant for anyone to go away having been tested or troubled in any way.


Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

I have done some desperate, foolish things come 3 o'clock in the morning.

Sea of Love (1989) (SPOILERS) It’s difficult to imagine Sea of Love starring Dustin Hoffman, for whom Richard Price wrote the screenplay but who bowed out over requests for multiple rewrites. Perhaps Hoffman secretly recognised what most of us don’t need telling; there’s no way he fits into an erotic thriller (I’m not sure I’d even buy him as a cop). Although, he would doubtless have had fun essaying the investigative side, involving a succession of dates on the New York singles scene as a means to ensnare a killer. Al Pacino, on the other hand, has just the necessary seedy, threadbare, desperate quality, and he’s a powerhouse in a movie that, without its performances (Ellen Barkin and John Goodman may also take bows), would be a mostly pedestrian and unremarkable entry in the then burgeoning serial killer genre. Well, I say unremarkable. The rightly most-remarked-upon aspect of the murder mystery side is how unsatisfyingly it’s resolved. Sea of Love is so scant of r