In recent years, it seems as though the only way to make anyone regard your romance film as being even remotely worth its salt, you have to make it different in some way. Gone are the days when you can just put an unreasonably attractive man and woman on the screen and have them achieve an unattainable and laughably unrealistic romance and expect people to just accept it. That’s just not how it works any more. You have to have a shtick. This trend has been occurring for some time now, but I tend to recognize “500 Days of Summer” as the movie that truly changed the market completely with its radicalism. Ever since it came out with all of its quirky “unromantic romance” glory, romance movies have really had to step up their game to be different enough to be up to snuff. This has led to an increase of protagonists possessing bizarre flaws or character traits, mainly either some form of supernatural ability or fatal disability (see recent tearjerker “Me Before You). And if there is ever a film that tries desperately to be radically different to get you to like it, it’s The Age of Adaline.
If you have an Amazon Prime account, it’s pretty easy to presume that you’ve seen The Age of Adaline appear on your main screen, as they have been wildly promoting it. Apparently, it’s some sort of mighty acquisition on their part. I wouldn’t exactly call it a blockbuster. It was released in 2015 to reasonably positive reviews and did decently enough at the box-office, yet people didn’t sit around and talk about this movie for very long. It’s not like a “Fault in Our Stars” situation, where everyone who saw the movie discussed it in-depth for many weeks to come. No, “Adaline” really just kind of came and went and didn’t set off any alarms. Which is the main reason that I didn’t get around to watching it until it was released on Amazon Prime. So now that I have seen it, I should address the question: Is it worth watching?
That really depends. I’ll put it this way, no one should go out of their way to pay money for “Adaline.” It really isn’t worth spending $4 to rent on V.O.D., but if you happen to have access to Amazon Prime, and have nothing to do on a Tuesday night, it might be worth your time. If you are looking for a film with feel-good romance that makes everyone blush and just feel generally warm on the inside, stay far away from this one. For there are very few rose-colored scenes in this film. But simultaneously, it isn’t a movie to watch if you want to cry, because it really doesn’t succeed to make you cry at any of the appropriate scenes. In all honesty there are only two reasons to watch this film. First, It is an incredibly creative story, even with all its eccentricities. And secondly, Harrison Ford is as perfect as you would ever want him to be.
Let’s start with the plot. Adaline’s plot is remarkably contrived to the point of lunacy, and yet it is the film’s main selling point. The general idea behind Adaline (Blake Lively) is that she is a girl who through an unbelievable sequence of coincidental circumstances and made-up science, has been given the unusual gift of being unable to age. At the start of this movie, she is somewhere past 100, and has sworn-off love completely because she feels that without being able to grow old with someone, it just simply isn’t worth it. That is, until she meets Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman). After a good helping of romance, Ellis decides to introduce Adaline to his parents, which is when the real conflict arises once we realize that Ellis’ father, played by Harrison Ford, just so happens to be an old flame of Adaline’s, and he is very-much still in love with her. I’ll spare you the details in case you want to see the film, but the script is loaded with copious amounts of flashbacks and recurring story-lines that add up to an insanely twisted and muddled plot that demands constant attention to get the most out of it.
While the story is borderline ridiculous, it is what makes this movie work. Without the creativity behind the screenplay, this film would be incredibly stagnant and an absolute bore. But thankfully, the movie was blessed with a talented screenwriter who presents original ideas and concepts to make a vibrant story that should have been very entertaining to watch. The problem is the acting talent does not do it justice in the slightest.
I have never seen Gossip Girl, the show from which Blake Lively is most well-known, so my only outlet to her acting abilities is this role. Unfortunately for Ms. Lively, anyone who sees Adaline will immediately regard her as an inexperienced and untalented actress. She portrays the eponymous character as someone who is worn by all her years of existence, so therefor seems somewhat high and mighty when around the immature youngsters who have lived on this planet for only, say 60 years. At least this is what she is trying to convey, but she just falls short. Adaline should be an old-soul, full of wisdom from all of her life-experiences, but through the vehicle of Blake Lively she just comes across as…dull. Apparently all of the old people that Lively has ever conversed with are just quiet and somewhat solemn. In about every scene Adaline feels unbearably distant from everyone around her. But not in the sense that the elderly can’t relate with the younger generation but instead in the sense that she is just vastly superior to basically everyone . Instead of conveying that she can’t get close to anyone because she’s been cursed with immortality, Adaline instead feels as though she can’t relate due to the fact that she’s acting under some bizarre kind of pretense. And in my experience, characters who are sad, serious and pretentious all at once are not exactly the most fun characters to watch on screen.
However Adaline is not the worst character in the movie. That coveted award goes to her love interest, Ellis. It would appear as though in the script, Ellis is supposed to be someone who is confused. Someone who falls in love with a girl and yet can never get close to her because she simply won’t let him. In theory, this would lead to a unique inner-conflict that would be electrifying onscreen. But Michiel Huisman does not quite seem to understand this dynamic and instead comes across as creepy, almost to the point of sexual harassment. He meets Adaline in an elevator on New Year’s Eve and becomes so infatuated with her after this tragically brief exchange, that he essentially dedicates the rest of his life to sleeping with her. He gets more dates with her via guilt and tricks until she eventually returns his feelings by, in essence, a minor case of Stockholm Syndrome. You might could say that I’m contradicting myself here, in that this would be an issue with the script. There is some validity to that argument, however the real issue is all in Huisman’s portrayal. His constant doting and efforts to get one more date with her should be viewed as whimsical and endearing, however the chemistry between him and Adaline is so nonexistent that for the entire first half of the movie all of the exchanges between them just feels creepy. In all honesty, if you replaced the score with something a bit more ominous, you could re-brand the film as a tale about a maniacal stalker.
Due to the uncomfortable relationship between Ellis and Adaline, the first half of the movie is really quite dull. There are some interesting set-pieces where they visit parts of San Francisco that have been lost by time that would be interesting with some more engaging actors but instead just remain forgotten. The movie really picks up though, once we meet Ellis’ father, played by Harrison Ford. Mr. Ford plays William Jones, a man who is celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary until he sees Adaline for the first time in about 50 years. All of a sudden the story has somewhere to go, as oddly enough, Harrison Ford seems to be the only one in this movie who is actually trying. You feel his pain and his confusion with every sentence he delivers, creating an excellent change of pace from the two pieces of wood that were driving this movie to this point. It is an absolute joy to see Ford actually care again, something that’s become increasingly rare these days as he takes on more and more sequels and ill-fated reboots (hence Indiana Jones 4). In all actuality, this movie would fall apart without Ford swooping in to save the day. He is simply a much more seasoned actor than the other two, and it really shows.
This is a hard movie to make work. The script would work much better as a novel or a Shakespearean-style stage play. The filmmakers tried their best to make it good, there aren’t really many problems with the direction, the score is thoughtful and the cinematography is very attractive. The only problem is that the two leads were terribly miscast. If you are the kind of person who watches movies just for the sake of watching a movie, or perhaps a romance enthusiast then Age of Adaline might be worth sitting down to watch. But if you don’t watch movies that often, and make an event out of the screening process, then you should probably shy away from this one. The story’s there; the acting simply is not.
Image: Blake Lively and Michiel Huisman in Age of Adaline. Film by Lakeshore Entertainment.