Posts Tagged ‘Lee Toland Krieger’

I wonder how many slightly drunk or otherwise confused people will end up going to see Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline by mistake? The title is, after all, not entirely dissimilar to that of another prominent film of the day – the Age of part is interchangable, while the other key words share rather similar alveolar laterals, plosives, and occlusives in more or less the same order. Anyone who does wander in by mistake is probably in for a disappointing time, for while the two are both very broadly in the fantasy genre, The Age of Adaline is a rather more reserved affair which appears to be pitching for a more refined (and probably older) audience.

Or, if you prefer, it’s a chick flick. Certainly filmgoers of the distaff persuasion outnumbered the blokes five or six to one at the screening I attended. I certainly felt a bit out of my comfort zone, and – I have to say – the thorough-going awfulness of all the trailers for other chick flicks which preceded this one does not really incline me to repeat the experience.


But on to this film, which is based on a premise that the trailer can’t help but spoil. Blake Lively plays the titular character, Adaline, a woman living in present-day San Francisco. As things get underway she is preparing to relocate to Oregon, but also involved in some rather odd situations – she’s buying a fake ID, for one thing, and also has slightly peculiar relationships with a couple of apparently older women (most  prominently Ellen Burstyn), the tenor of which does not really match her age.

One of the problems with The Age of Adaline is that it is saddled with an omniscient voiceover, which jumps in to fill in plot points with no warning at various junctures in the film. Normally I would say this was an example of telling rather than showing, and thus bad storytelling, but given some of the stuff it has to impart I’m less inclined to be severe. Basically, we are told, Adaline was born in the last hours of 1907 and lived a perfectly normal life for nearly thirty years, until she was involved in an accident, and, well, according to the film a combination of rapid cooling and high voltage electricity (wait for it) electro-compressed her RNA and locked her telomeres in a non-flexible configuration. What this means is that ever since she has been completely immune to the ravages of time and hasn’t aged a day (though, we are invited to infer, she is still potentially a martyr to car crashes, disease, beheading, and so on).

Somehow the FBI got word of Adaline’s peculiar condition in the mid 50s and she has been living under a succession of fake identities ever since, somewhat to the dismay of her now-elderly daughter (Burstyn’s character). Naturally she feels she can’t get seriously involved with anyone, or live too prominent a lifestyle, but inevitably this changes when she meets Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a… oh, well, for the purposes of both the review and the film all that matters is that he is a lovely, attractive, kind, rich bloke who clearly has a thing for her. She might even find she has a thing for him too, if she just relaxes a bit and lets her guard down. But is there any future in it? Oh, what’s a 107-year-old woman to do sometimes?

Yes, this is one of those films where two gorgeous young (or in this case seemingly young) people have a cute-meet near the start and then spend most of the film contriving reasons why they can’t actually be together after all. If the film made a serious attempt to be funny it would be a rom-com, but it isn’t, so I suppose it must just be a rom. As you may have guessed, I came to see The Age of Adaline solely because of the fantasy element – stories about immortals and other very long-lived people of any stripe do interest me. (And this is clearly a fantasy, by the way – all that stuff about telomeres and electro-compression makes about as much sense as her unknowingly being an alien from the planet Zeist, and they should just have gone with her being hit by magic lightning or something.)

Lively gives one of the best performances as someone who is effectively out-of-time and much older than her appearance suggests that I can remember : she has a slight sense of detachment and aloofness, in addition to convincingly being a fearsome polymath with Sherlockian powers of ratiocination and an encyclopedic knowledge of recent history (maybe having compressed RNA boosts your brain function, too). However, as the film goes on the story requires her to increasingly show a more accessible and human side to the character, and the actress manages this without making it too obvious or abrupt. The script, meanwhile, manages to come up with a few new angles on this kind of idea, in addition to actually having a strong subtext all about history, heritage, and nostalgia.

Essentially, however, all this stuff is just window-dressing to the central conflict of the story, which – as I say – is a they-can’t-be-together romance. As you may have gathered, my expectation going into this film was that it was basically going to turn out to be Highlander for girls, and in the absence of implausible Scotsmen and broadsword-wielding heavies crashing through the scenery, all we would be left with was the ‘Who wants to live forever?‘ beat of the older film dragged out to feature length. Happily, this does not happen: schmaltz and sentiment is pretty much kept under control and this remains a fairly credible drama for most of its length.

To be honest, it’s almost exclusively Lively’s film, the only other character with any real depth being William, Ellis’ father, who is played by Harrison Ford (given the actor’s famous care when it comes to rationing his appearances, this must be the one and only film we’ll see him in this year). Ford gives his character a bit of gravitas and the whole film a bit of ballast, and, well, it’s just always nice to see him, isn’t it? Actually, the youthful version of Ford’s character (extensive flashbacks are pretty much a trope of this sort of story) is played by Anthony Ingruber, who does such an astonishingly good job that a lucrative association with the Disney Corporation must surely beckon.

In the end, however, given that the premise of the story is predicated on a fairly outrageous deus ex machina, it’s not entirely surprising that its resolution should feel fairly contrived as well. What occurs between these two points is, for the most part, fairly well written, directed, and performed – with Blake Lively being especially good, as I mentioned. Personally, I found the film’s assumption that the most important consequence of potential immortality would be the impossibility of chocolate-box romance, and that unnatural longevity was therefore at least as much a curse as a blessing, to be rather questionable, but it would take a very different and rather less commercial film to tackle such ideas. The Age of Adaline is not that film – but, for what it is, it is a very pleasant, classy, and well-made picture.

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