OVERDUE REVIEW: The Age of Adaline

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For this subset of movie reviews, Every Movie Has a Lesson is circling back review reasonably recent films that were missed during their main runs or are debuting on home media. These are educational-themed "OVERDUE REVIEWS" and the life lessons are still in full effect.


MY LATE HOMEWORK EXCUSE:  I have to admit, I found myself in a tug-of-war between good and bad reviews for "The Age of Adaline" which prompted some cold feet until I got a date night with my wife four weeks after the film's debut.  The good was represented by an unexpectedly strong 3.5 star out of 4 review from Tribune critic Roger Moore which appeared in the Chicago Tribune here at home.  Tim Day of "Day at the Movies," a fellow blogger I trust and friend of the website, shouted the bad half from the mountaintops with a scathing 3/10 review on his site, which declared it the worst film he's seen this year (at least until the deuce he just dropped on "Aloha" just today).  A Facebook friend, Bradford Oman, who writes for FirstShowing.net and /Film under the pen name Ethan Anderton, gave it some positive props which broke the tie and grabbed my interest.  

ANTICIPATORY SET AND PRIOR KNOWLEDGE:  "The Age of Adaline" stars former CW TV star Blake Lively as the title character Adaline Bowman.  She was born on New Year's Day in 1908 in San Francisco, but hasn't physically aged since she was 29 years old when an icy automobile accident stopped her heart and a chance lightning bolt brought her back to life.  For the last 70+ years since the accident, Adaline has changed identities several times and stayed away from the mainstream public, living between an rural Oregon hideaway and a small apartment in San Francisco's Chinatown.  The only person who knows the truth is her own daughter Fleming (Ellen Burstyn) who has aged into her 80s ahead of her.  Adaline, going by the name of Jennifer Larson in 2014, is an old soul stuck in a young woman's body.

Adaline has had small romances and acquaintances over the decades but never lets anyone very close.  A handsome young engineer and philanthropist named Ellis Jones (Dutch "Game of Thrones" cast member Michiel Huisman) sweeps her off her feet and changes all that.  She grows to love him and weighs the notion of telling him the truth about her life.  To remain spoiler-free, all of that hits quite a snag when Ellis invites Jennifer to stay with his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) over the weekend to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.  That's where the plot thickens and things get very dramatic.

MY TAKE:  Thanks to the wide range of reviews and opinions that were shared my way going into "The Age of Adaline," I didn't have high hopes.  I trust Tim's reviews and we tend to see eye-to-eye more often than not.  The same goes for Bradford.  In the end, both my wife and I were pleasantly surprised how intrigued we were by the film.  It more than kept our attention and we both were very interested to see how it would turn out.  "The Age of Adaline" greatly works as meet-in-the-middle compromise date movie that easily works for women and doesn't have enough really awful parts to scare away the men.

This film is far from perfect.  There is an large unevenness between the wistful Nicholas Sparks-Lite tone the film is going for and the very heavy-handed delivery of its odd pseudo-science/pseudo-magical premise.  One of the biggest detracting aspects for me was the narration from professional voice actor Hugo Ross.  It's overly frank, distracting, and explains far too much in a movie that could have added value to its mystery and whimsy without it.  This was a filmmaking decision where they could have opened this wine and let it breathe, allowing the audience to interpret and follow Adaline's circumstances with their own conclusions and deductions rather than explain them with a thud of "oh... well, I guess that's that."  This is a classic case where some things are better left unsaid and up to the audience.  It nearly belittles basic intelligence.

What I can complement is the tone.  Even if it was thin, I like the palette of this movie, from looks to style.  The presence of a magazine hottie celebrity like Lively could have really turned "The Age of Adaline" into something overly self-serving, gaudy, or glamorous.  Instead, she works with a light, chic touch of understatement that I didn't think she had in her after annoying me to pieces in "Green Lantern" years ago.  She has always had the beauty to weaken knees, but now she showed screen presence to deserve that attention.  I didn't want to punch her in the face.  Director Lee Toland Krieger of the decent indie break-up movie "Celeste and Jesse Forever" from 2012 was clearly trying to match the tepid romantic temperature of the likes of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Time Traveler's Wife."  Nothing gets too hot and sweaty and nothing gets too cold and uninteresting.  Everything is kept very soft-spoken.  If you need more boldness, "The Age of Adaline" isn't the place to get it.

Without a doubt, the single best quality of this film that earns it an entire star in the positive direction is the surprising and complete investment of Harrison Ford.  This a rare romantic and supporting role for him and he squeezes everything he can out of the limited material.  When he and what he represents shows up for Ellis and Jennifer/Adaline, the whole scope and impact of "The Age of Adaline" changes and he wills this movie into being better and more important than it probably should be.  Ford sells every scene and moment he's in like a million bucks.  Bonus points go to the casting director that found a dead ringer of a doppelganger for Ford in virtual newcomer Anthony Ingruber.  Even the Ingruber's voice matching will raise your eyebrows and beg for this kid to make it into some ill-advised "Star Wars" prequel just to see what he could do.

LESSON #1: WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE STUCK NOT AGING-- The notions of either time travel or immortality have always sparked our fantasies.  Watching a film like "The Age of Adaline," you can't help but put yourself in her shoes and ask all of the proverbial questions of "what if" and what you would do in her place.  What kind of life would you leave?  How would you make money?  How would you spend your time?  How would you handle love and relationships?  Everyone has thought about it from a fantasy standpoint, but the question becomes adding logistics and heavier decisions to that fantasy.

LESSON #2: EVERYONE HAS A SPEED AND ABILITY FOR WAXING NOSTALGICALLY-- I think, as a memory exercise for destressing and an emotional exercise for stability, everyone should take time out of their day to remember, daydream, and wax nostalgically on a good memory or two.  I'm not trying to say we're all going to be Peter Pan and fly fueled by happy thoughts, but I think we all need to take Ferris Bueller's advice to stop and look around once in a while at life.  Everyone can remember and have that twinkle of a smile remembering a first kiss, a good joke, an embarrassing moment, or a beautiful shared experience.  Take it a step further and try to remember what you were wearing, the smells in the air, etc. of those memories.  My daughter is just over two-years-old and thinks that every time she goes to Costco she will see Cinderella after the one time we took her a month ago to see a group of local students dressed as Disney Princesses for a photo op.  If she can do it, us adults can as well.

LESSON #3: PINING FOR HISTORY VERSUS PINING FOR THE FUTURE-- As a woman frozen in time, Adaline represents a woman who has seen and lived more history than anyone else.  She values it because she has spanned enough time that others have forgotten about some of it.  By contrast, she finds a suitor in Ellis that aims his sights for the future because that's where he's moving towards.  The ageless Adaline doesn't feel that or weight that future.  As a tangent of Lesson #1, the direction of time, either forward or backward, people put their optimism and focus towards speaks to their soul a little.   Neither route is wrong and well-rounded people can look in both directions with care and appreciation.