Thursday, April 23, 2015
Review: "The Age of Adaline"
"The Age of Adaline" is a movie with a little going for it.
It wants to be a lush romantic tale with a science fiction twist -- beautiful young woman suffers a strange accident and remains young and beautiful forever. Like Dorian Gray and Orlando, Adaline Bowman wanders the decades, eschewing love but eventually drawn into entanglements that inevitably end with pain.
Emotionally, though, it's a remarkably staid film, with neither lead actress Blake Lively or the story providing much in the way to cause our hearts to go pitter-patter.
Until, that is, Harrison Ford shows up in the second half and almost rescues the picture with his raw, naked vulnerability.
Which, I'm aware, is a strange thing to say. Whatever else you think of Ford's thespian skills -- I happen to believe he's been gravely underestimated over his four decades of acting -- he's never been known as a particularly emotive performer. Gruff, hard everymen who occasionally let their veneer slip is more his line.
So to see him stripped bare, stammering with eyes that seem just on the edge of tears, is quite a thing to experience.
The rest of the film picks up on his tragic energy, and concludes with a great deal more emotional momentum, even if the plot is a bit predictable. It's like the movie suddenly remembers to get out of its own way.
Lively plays Adaline, born to a wealthy San Francisco family in 1908. She led a pretty normal life, we're told -- the strangely flat, precise narration is a pure bust -- until the age of 29. During a rare California snowstorm, her car crashed into an icy river, where she went into hypothermia and was then revived by an electrical current from lightning.
All this caused her DNA to undergo "electron compression" and ... actually, don't bother trying to figure out the science-y gobbledy gook; it all just means that she stopped aging. She soldiered on with her life, raising her daughter, until it became clear that she could no longer fool others with talk of miracle Parisian face creams to explain her unaging appearance.
Adaline went on the lam, taking up a new identity and existence every 10 years. And never let her guard down, we learn, except once.
Flash to 2015. Adaline, now going by the name Jenny, celebrates her 107th birthday with her daughter, Flemming (Ellen Burstyn), who is now quite elderly, and her only confidante. She's preparing to spend her next decade on a farm in Oregon, until she runs into an effusive man named Ellis, played by Dutch actor Michiel Huisman, who pronounces his name as "Alice."
He isn't a particularly interesting or engaging character. He's that tiresome cinematic canard, the charming guy who got fabulously rich at a young age but doesn't make a big deal out of it because, y'know, it's just money.
(Axiom: the only people who say they don't care about money are those who already have gobs and gobs of it.)
Ellis/Alice woos Adaline/Jenny with a fierce urgency bordering on creepiness. She eventually succumbs, of course, because otherwise there wouldn't be a movie. They go on a trip to celebrate the 40th anniversary of his parents, played by Ford and Kathy Baker ... and there I'll have to stop, to prevent giving away too much.
It may seem an odd comparison, but this movie reminded me in some ways of "Funny People." That 2009 Judd Apatow comedy started out very strong, but then about halfway through we stumbled upon a new character and storyline that knocked the whole movie off its rails.
"The Age of Adaline" is the opposite: it wanders the wilderness for nearly an hour, then Harrison Ford rides in like a white knight. Neither film winds up a total success, but it's better to gain vigor than watch it dissipate.