dir: Lee Toland Krieger
Fantasy? Romance? Fantasy romance?
Whatever perfect combination of both those concepts you could wish for.
What is this film about? Well, it’s…
Hard to say. It’s about immortality and love, and hiding, and time.
That there is a strange element to the story is a given, since it’s about a woman who’s over a hundred years old but who doesn’t look a day over 25. What it’s ultimately saying about life and love, well, I have no idea, because I wasn’t able to figure it out whilst watching it.
I’ve thought about it some more since then. Still nothing.
Adaline (Blake Lively) looks like a young woman living in San Francisco. Upon travelling to her place of work she reminisces about her youth while watching archival footage of San Fran 100 years ago. If her faraway expression wasn’t enough, a serious, sober voiceover starts telling us stuff as if we, and not Adaline, are watching a documentary.
This is not a documentary, in case I haven’t yet made it painfully obvious. Adaline floats through most of the movie, elegant and detached from all around her. Why?
Well, people would get freaked out since she doesn’t age. And she doesn’t want a visit from the FBI/Gestapo again, where they once grabbed her, presumably for the purposes of experimentation, and yet they did it so incompetently that she was able to get away.
Never again, maybe that’s her motto. That’s why every decade or so she ups and moves, ‘killing’ off her previous persona, acquiring a new identity, and basically hiding away from a world she remembers from a distance.
How does Blake Lively put this strange kind of character across for our amusement and entertainment? Basically she talks to anyone who asks her a question with this gentle, condescending, grandmotherly tone, which is of course at odds with her youthful appearance.
We sense that, other than her daughter (mostly played by the great Ellen Burstyn), and a blind friend (who we never see again once she serves her convenient purpose), Adaline has lived a solitary life. She has known love and relationships and such, but she is generally content with living in the shadows, only able to love her replaceable spaniels.
In a different kind of flick, this would mean she was a vampire who was perhaps trying to atone for centuries of cruelty, living in the shadows, brought out by the love of a good man/woman/bagel, now trying to make amends and atone by doing good deeds and helping the helpless etc.
Instead, this is a flick where a woman does very little for about 50 years other than safeguard her privacy, but only because she seems to be the perverse victim of Fate, or the stars, or a manipulative God who’s just messing with her for not much of a discernible purpose.
I say that with a note of frustration in my (writing) voice, because I otherwise really enjoyed this strange, achingly slow film. There is something about the character as written and played that does appeal to me. There’s a melancholy there that is, strangely enough, relatable and believable. The other contrivances do somewhat deflate the story before its end, but for much of the flick’s length I was engaged and wondering.
Love is often the catalyst for change in people’s lives, and it’s often the reason why characters in films and novels change longstanding patterns and behaviours in order to hold on to something that now seems worthwhile to them. Adaline is physically incapable of change, but the problem until now has moreso been that mentally she has closed herself off from other people.
Will someone come along and convince her that other people are awesome, and that it’s worth the risk FOR LOVE?????
Well, yes, otherwise it’s a pretty dull movie about a shut in who learns lots of languages for her amusement. Even Braille!.
Fortunately or unfortunately, a man will come along who don’t take no for an answer, who basically stalks Adaline into rejoining the world.
What man do they select for the job? A cocky bastard who plays the cocky bastard Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones, Michiel Huisman, that’s who.
If anyone’s got the arrogance/eye candy potential to justify such a role, you’d think it would be this guy. Problem is, while he might be quite adept at swinging his sword around, clothed or naked, and great at being objectified by a queen, it’s perhaps a tad too much to believe this Dutch actor is an American whitebread called Ellis Jones. His accent is fine for a Westeros sellsword, but well whatever nevermind.
I have no problem believing that Adaline might be attracted to him, or like him, since he seems like a complete fantasy version of what a romance writer would think of as the perfect man. The apologetic stalking of Adaline when she has misgivings, finding out her personal details against her express wishes, well, I found that a bit creepy. There’s not really a credible argument for why it gets a pass in the flick other than “It’s okay to stalk a woman if you love her and if you’re hot and rich”, which is a dumb message in anything other than a book read by a fan of the Fifty Shades of Grey saga.
If/when she is won over, the film finds a more difficult path by contriving to make it so Ellis’s father (Harrison Ford) actually recognises Adaline, and though he is at first put off with some story about Adaline (going by the name Jennifer) being her mother, who recently passed way, sadly, he's not put off for long.
Why she stays at Ellis’s parents home for longer, since she’s characterised as being pathologically afraid of being found out, is a mystery the flick never solves. It seems silly from a character perspective, but I guess it has to get her when the story needs her to be.
There’s an overall ‘plot’ at work, where an unlikely event occurs twice over the timespan of 78 years, which implies that there’s some greater purpose, greater intelligence at play, but to no end that I could discern. And if there are hints that something as absurd as astrology is at play, well, I’m sorry, but my brain rejects that as a matter of course.
Also, an admission towards the end of the flick, you imagine as a viewer, would have caused all sorts of confusion and heartbreak to a lot of people (predominately Ellis’s family). All of that is washed over in such a simplistic fashion that it’s almost comical.
Let me be blunt: a woman of whatever age having slept with the father and the son in a particular family is more the subject matter of those daytime shows where paternity tests have become public events and people throw chairs at each other in front of a booing audience, not a classy romance-fantasy-drama. How Ellis’s mother would have felt about all this, or even Ellis himself, is completely glossed over. The things we do for love.
Maybe it wasn’t important – maybe it was in the too-hard basket. Who knows, and maybe it doesn’t matter. When I brought up these concerns with my partner after we watched the flick, she looked at me like either a) my comments were completely insane, or b) I was describing a different movie. Either way it bugged me.
There are sweet moments, like the bizarre indoor drive-in with the painted ceiling, or the golden glow of the New Year’s scenes (I would argue that the best moments in the film occur in conversations between mother and daughter, weird as they may be, Ellen Burstyn always gives her all), and it all looks beautiful. It’s a bit stilted, though. It’s also incredibly slow, like glacially slow. It’s okay when there are pretty things or people to look at, but it can leave you feeling like it was a bit of a superficial experience.
7 times I wondered whether I could resist tarring this flick with the “it reminded me of The Time Traveller’s Wife” brush and failed out of 10
“There you go again, putting your hand in places it doesn't belong.” – The Age of Adaline