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

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

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…

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

A machine planet, sending a machine to Earth, looking for its creator. It’s absolutely incredible.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
(SPOILERS) Most of the criticisms levelled at Star Trek: The Motion Picture are legitimate. It puts spectacle above plot, one that’s so derivative it might be classed as the clichéd Star Trek plot. It’s bloated and slow moving. For every superior redesign of the original series’ visuals and concepts, there’s an inferior example. But… it’s also endlessly fascinating. It stands alone among the big screen chapters of series as an attempted reimagining of the TV show as a grand adult, serious-minded “experience”, taking its cues more from 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Wars or even Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the success of which got The Motion Picture (TMP) a green light, execs sufficiently convinced that Lucas’ hit wasn’t a one-off). It’s a film (a motion picture, not a mere movie) that recognises the passage of time (albeit clumsily at points) and gives a firm sense of space and place to its characters universe. It’s hugely flawed, but it bot…