I thought for something a little different my wife and I should watch Age of Adaline the the other night. Turns out my wife hates romantic comedies. How did I get so lucky? Overall I have to agree with the majority of reviewers that the film, while it has its high points, is overall very mediocre, and mediocre may be a little generous. It is hard to fault the performances of Blake lively and Harrison Ford as well as most of the supporting cast. However the film falls short in one key area and falls flat in many areas one of which I’d like to go into here.
The romance didn’t work. Not part of that is the chemistry between the two romantic characters, and I’ll go into Ellis later, but the biggest issue was the romantic dynamic itself. In a successful romance the relationship must solve the problem. What do I mean by that? Every story has a conflict in almost every good story has a central conflict. In an action movie, or action story, the central conflict is overcome by an … wait for it… action, and in a romance the central conflict should be resolved by, you guessed it, the romance (or the relationship if you want to get specific). Sounds simple right? It is. And I believe that’s why the deus ex machine ending of Age of Adaline was so unfulfilling.
One reason that I believe the rom-com genre has so fallen out of favor with mainstream filmmaking (and consequently been totally absorbed by mumble core filmmakers) is that mainstream Hollywood screenwriters have discovered, at least the good ones, that they can make the central conflict of a story a relationship drama while keeping the ancillary conflicts and action-based drama and attract both men and women to the same story. iron man is a classic example of this. The central conflict in iron man has nothing to do with guns or fighting or any kind of physical conflict it has to do with Tony Stark’s inner pain and inability to relate to other people on a human level. For all of the intense action sequences and sci-fi appeal this story isn’t resolved until he fights to get Pots back.
As crazy as it sounds, I actually believe Iron Man is a better romantic comedy than Age of Adeline. That isn’t to say that they couldn’t have Adeline change at the end, just that that change has to happen after she resolves the central conflict with the other romantic lead. Having her change when they do takes all of the tension out of the central conflict. Perhaps if there was more to relate to in her relationship with Alice or it was more tension prior to that moment they could’ve pulled it off, but there wasn’t. Even if the central conflict had been strong enough to keep her attention throughout the entire movie I think it best this film would still exhibit the Romeo and Juliet syndrome. After a certain age the appeal of “Romeo and Juliet” isn’t the central romantic conflict, it is all the other interesting characters that Shakespeare created around Romeo and Juliet. In the same way the secondary relationships of Adeline with her daughter, had Adaline with Harrison Ford, Harrison Ford with his wife, etc. are always going to be more interesting but if that central relationship, that central conflict, doesn’t hold her attention we don’t care enough to remember those interesting secondary relationships.
Which brings me to my second point. I found the character of Ellis was underserved. For example why did Ellis have to be wealthy? While watching the film I justified it by saying Adeline’s wealthy and putting them on equal socioeconomic footing windows down potential conflicts to be only about their age. Since the film barely had enough time to adequately explore that aspect I can see some justification. But if that’s the justification making them accidentally wealthy is such an apologist move and it throws away opportunities to heighten the conflict in a real way. What I would’ve done, keeping wealthy. Keep the back story of unobscured algorithm and made them lots of money in the tech boom. Instead of going for an idiot savant trying to save the world out of some strange sense of white guilt embrace a statistical mindset. Make them a rogue economist who lives not for the typical, but for the chance of failure, and an obsession for beating the odds. That gives him real motivation for pursuing Adeline despite her constant negatives. It makes him stronger character and not just some accidentally wealthy male seeking affirmation from the one woman who won’t give it to them. Adeline becomes more and more desirable to a man like that the harder she tries to get away. It also gives him a very good reason to be well-versed in history and science which will help them to better understand her and also to create conflict later on when he doesn’t really understand what it was like to live through those events. He would know the history and the improbability of the events you live through, but not the emotional experience and core. To add a line they would be memories, and like most of our memories, they could seem to us to only have unfolded in one way. to this alternate Ellis the past as a series of events that might’ve turned out very differently.
Age of Adaline: a great concept and was remarkably well acted but it was almost as if the writers fail to appreciate the most important and most central aspects of their very own story. Perhaps it was a producer with no storytelling ability that forced this change on the film, but in the end it trades its greatness for something stock and unfulfilling. If the film had been a more standard love story the acting might have carried it alone. But by reaching for something more and then giving us something so bland Age of Adeline feels not just cliché but insipid.