THE AGE OF ADELINE (2015, Lee Toland Krieger)
There’s a scene late in this film that involves neither of the two leads, nor does it advance the plot in any way. It involves a character introduced halfway through the film and could have been cut out in post without hurting the story at all. But it’s the best sequence in the movie because it actually feels honest. The moment in question involves Harrison Ford’s character William, giving a speech at his 40th wedding anniversary party, talking about what his wife means to him. So far in the film we’d seen William go into shock at seeing a woman who looks just like (and might even be) the girl he fell madly in love with nearly 50 years ago. But he only dated her for a few weeks, and she disappeared. The film risks making William look like a dick for ignoring his long-loving wife in favor of this fleeting affair, but then earns back our trust with William’s speech, which argues for the real value in a lengthy relationship — that love is years of support, not a weekend of lust.
This is essentially the message of the film, and it’s why Ellen Burstyn’s character spends the whole movie trying to convince mom Blake Lively to get involved in something long-term. But no other sequence in the film lands as well as William’s speech; it’s just platitudes and cornball gestures. Lines like “you’ve lived all these years but never had a life!” and things like romantic walks among old timey theaters. Worst of all is the Ellis character — played with soap opera sincerity by Michael Huisman (a Dutch actor struggling with an American accent), Ellis changes not one bit after getting to know Adeline. He’s fallen in love with her before speaking one word to her, and spends the entire film trying to get her. Why? Although Adeline has plenty of good qualities (she’s wise and worldly but very humble; she’s caring and sensitive but has a sense of humor), Ellis apparently doesn’t need to know any of them. He does, but it doesn’t change how he behaves. He’s the same lovesick puppy dog in the third act as he is in his opening scene: smitten. Shouldn’t Adeline deserve a guy who loves her once he realizes what she has to offer?
Another issue is in Adeline’s agency. She can make choices, but for a woman who has infinite time on her hands, she sure acts quickly and impulsively for no good reason. Most of the dramatic problems here would be solved if she took an hour or a day or a minute to think about things. If I were Ellis I’d be more concerned with this apparent wishy-washyness than her just being closed-off. But the one thing she never makes a choice about is her anti-aging condition, and by taking these decisions out of her hands, Goodloe and Paskowitz’s screenplay doesn’t let Adeline be active in any meaningful way. It’s kind of a cop out.
Krieger has a decent eye, though, and his compositions and cutting are fluid and elegant. Ford and Burstyn are reliably good, the former especially endearing because it’s been so long since he’s been able to tackle a role like this. After so much focus on Indiana Jones and Han Solo, it’s nice to be reminded that this guy can really act. Lively, on the other hand, as a bizarrely unreal voice and an icy demeanor that is no doubt correct for this part (I can see why she was cast as a chilly but pretty woman who never ages and never gets close to people) but makes it tough to really identify with her or cheer her on. The result is a mixed bag that continues to fall short of the standard set by that one superlative speech.