12 May 2015

Review: THE AGE OF ADALINE

There's something beguiling about The Age Of Adaline, a film that sits comfortably on the fence in the wake of a couple of similar romances with magical realism at their heart. It has neither the formal whimsy of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, nor the incoherent weirdness of A New York Winter's Tale, but it makes a strong pitch right down the centre between those forerunners.

During an unseasonal snowstorm in 1937, Adaline Bowman is a 29 year old widow who is reborn after a car accident, leaving her immune to the ravages of time, because magic. By the year 2014, Adaline has fallen into a routine of changing her identity every decade to avoid detection (and, indeed, dissection by government types) and only keeping contact with her now-elderly daughter Flemming and her beloved spaniel, but when she meets a persistent young suitor, Ellis, that might all change. Then again, as we discover through flashbacks, it's not the first time she's tried to get close to someone.

The film doesn't feel especially cinematic, next to those aforementioned comparison points. For its running time and the way that director Lee Toland Krieger realises the film's high concept premise, it does feel a little like it's built to fit a two hour daytime slot on one of the less well known movie channels rather than a cinema screen.

It's elevated by a couple of factors. Firstly, cinematographer David Lanzenberg does a credible impression of the green and brown tones in Fincher's Benjamin Button, but looking gorgeous is about as far as that tribute act goes. On a similar note though, Blake Lively gives the kind of breakthrough performance that would mark her instant graduation to “serious movie actress”, if only the rest of the movie had lived up to it. Since her tenure on TV's Gossip Girl, she's played often thankless supporting roles in films as varied as The Town and Green Lantern, but always in an eye-catching fashion. 

As Adaline, she's finally the centre of attention and she holds herself magnificently. Even better roles will follow and we could well be looking back at her work in this one a decade from now, when she's had a couple of Oscar nominations under her belt, as a real curious case. She even believably makes it so that “eternally looking like Blake Lively” might be something of a curse and she affects a graceful isolation as someone who is physically incapable of change, trying not to freeze out her emotions over the course of an unnaturally long life.

The subsequent romantic scenes work just fine, but Huisman's completely left in the dust next to Lively's existential young fogey. It figures that a dreadful hipster like Ellis, who doesn't seem to own a TV and tries to chat up girls with jokes about Red Sox fielder Ted Williams, would be the kind of man who gets along well with Adaline, but Huisman hardly has an easy job making an appealing lead out of the character as written.

It also takes a long time for the film to fully come to life. In the second half, we meet Adaline's parents and particularly when we discover that his father William (Harrison Ford) knew Adaline back in the 1960s. As well as playing a character who jump-starts the plot, Ford classes things up considerably with a turn that feels really unusual for him. More so than in his dad-shock role in the last Indiana Jones film, he fits the role of a slightly embarrassing father figure perfectly and Adaline piques his nostalgia in a way that leads to some legitimately great scenes. 

Ford has typically been more of a leading man, but here you might easily mistake him for a more reserved character actor and he wears it well. Ellen Burstyn also lends emotional heft to the proceedings, while simultaneously doubling down on this kind of role after a brief turn in another time-bending fantasy last year. The scenes between Adaline and her daughter really drive home the plight of immortality. Some kudos should also go to whoever cast the younger counterparts to Ford and Burstyn's characters- they're not huge roles, but Anthony Ingruber and Cate Richardson really look and sound the part.

Regrettably, the script isn't quite up to the standard of the performances. The credits for it are inexplicable (J. Mills Goodloe has three credits and Salvador Paskowitz has two, all on one screen of the end credits) and likewise, its rambling approach to the flashbacks unsettle the film by aiming for a would-be literary tone. Most hilariously though, the film has the most misjudged narration in a Harrison Ford movie since the original cut of Blade Runner

As with Emma Thompson's portentous commentary in Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children, the voice of Hugh Ross abruptly interjects every now and then to dispense weirdly specific cod-science. The trouble is that every scene in which this happens involves blatant magic. Compared to how a story like The Time Traveller's Wife leaves the specifics of the hubby's genetic disorder to the imagination, for instance, it's weird that Goodloe, Paskowitz, Goodloe, Paskowitz and Goodloe struggled with that one so much.

The Age Of Adaline is a flawed romantic fantasy and certainly can't boast the most elegant execution of an interesting premise. However, it's winsome in all the right places and that even makes its most ridiculous attempts at grounding seem forgiveable. You may outright hate it if it catches you in the wrong mood, but for nothing else other than Lively's ethereal leading role, or Ford's emotional gravitas, or just to see what a Hallmark Channel movie directed by David Fincher might look like, it's worth your time.

The Age Of Adaline is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

No comments: