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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Romulan ale should be illegal.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
(SPOILERS) Out of the ST:NG movies, Star Trek: Nemesis seems to provoke the most outrage among fans, the reasons mostly appearing to boil down to continuity and character work. In the case of the former, while I can appreciate the beef, I’m not enough of an aficionado to get too worked up. In the case of the latter, well, the less of the strained inter-relationships between this bunch that make it to the screen, the better (director Stuart Baird reportedly cut more than fifty minutes from the picture, most of it relating to underscoring the crew, leading to a quip by Stewart that while an Actor’s Cut would include the excised footage, a Director’s one would probably be even shorter). Even being largely unswayed by such concerns, though, Nemesis isn’t very good. It wants to hit the same kind of dramatic high notes as The Wrath of Khan (naturally, it’s always bloody Khan) but repeatedly drifts into an out-of-tune dirge.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

I think we’ve returned to Eden. Surely this is how the World once was in the beginning of time.

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
Ridley Scott’s first historical epic (The Duellists was his first historical, and his first feature, but hardly an epic) is also one of his least remembered films. It bombed at the box office (as did the year’s other attempted cash-ins on the discovery of America, including Superman: The Movie producers the Salkinds’ Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) and met with a less than rapturous response from critics. Such shunning is undeserved, as 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a richer and more thought-provoking experience than both the avowedly lowbrow Gladiator and the re-evaluated-but-still-so-so director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. It may stand guilty of presenting an overly sympathetic portrait of Columbus, but it isn’t shy about pressing a critical stance on his legacy.

Sanchez: The truth is, that he now presides over a state of chaos, of degradation, and of madness. From the beginning, Columbus proved himself completely incapable of ruling these islands…

Cally. Help us, Cally. Help Auron.

Blake's 7 3.7: Children of Auron

Roger Parkes goes a considerable way towards redeeming himself for the slop that was Voice from the Past with his second script for the series, and newcomer Andrew Morgan shows promise as a director that never really fulfilled itself in his work on Doctor Who (but was evident in Knights of God, the 1987 TV series featuring Gareth Thomas).

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…