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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli