The Age of Adaline
(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.