This is a movie I was eager to hate from the moment the trailer hit. When it came out, some of my friends were excited to see it but I sat with silent, internal groans as the cheesy narration played out. A girl on my facebook newsfeed shared the trailer and virtually exclaimed “this looks amazing!!!!!”. Naturally, this heightened my aversion to it as I’m more of a hipster-ish indie movie type. Even though art house cinema is more up my alley, I am open to anything provided there’s a story, heart and interesting characters. However, I have a particular scepticism towards romance movies because the good ones are relatively few and far between. Despite this I still wanted to watch it to see if it could deliver on the charm and whimsy that the trailer promised. Well today was the day that I finally saw it. As much as I was ready to hate it, I was also partially hoping to be surprised by it. I have previously made the mistake of judging a movie by its terrible trailer.
So I gave it a chance. It was a rollercoaster ride of happiness, anger, sadness and bewilderment. This is not a compliment. I wasn’t angry and sad with it. I was angry at it. I was sad that someone out there made the effort to pick up this screenplay and bewildered that people agreed to make it happen. The story of a century-old, ageless being grappling with the passage of time, mortality and life’s fleeting moments is a great concept. It’s actually too grandiose of an idea because there are infinite possibilities and myriads of ideas that can be applied. It literally has to consider a whole century worth of world-events, changes in society, culture and so much more. The main character was born in 1908 and this movie involves exploring her life at present day 2015. Imagine being stagnated at your prime for over 78 years? Where do you even begin with a premise like that? Way too much has happened. 2 world wars, The Civil Rights Movement, 3 waves of feminism (1st wave spilled over into early 20th century so I’m going to count it), gay rights and that’s just glossing over the surface of such an extended period of time.
But this a romance-fantasy movie with that hot girl from Gossip Girl so of course it had to be a run of the mill ‘love story’ about a beautiful girl experiencing the grievances of being the object of affection and desire. Even if 107 years is too much content to take into account (especially for the purposes of a movie), under smart screen-writers and good direction this could have been a philosophical look into the ravages of time and the nature of life and living. Unfortunately it takes a clichéd, melodramatic approach with an especially cringe-worthy ending. If they wanted to make a cinematic fairy-tale with beautiful people, they should have just done so without taking on such a big idea. When I started watching this movie my first thought was: could this movie have been done like this if the lead character was switched out for a male? In my humble opinion, I don’t think so. I believe that if this concept was written for a man, they would have given him more to do and wouldn’t have written a story based off something as comparatively trivial as allowing a beautiful person to love you. The central conflict is her fear of forming close relationships and her aversion to letting romantic love into her life due to the secret agelessness she has to harbour. I’ve noticed that a lot of female-centred stories are built around the lead being involved in a love triangle or finding “true love” while in films involving a male protagonist, the romance is usually secondary to the actual plot and conflict. I’m not saying that love is not important. As The Beatles tell us, “love is all you need”, but when it comes to writing a good story there has to be more to it. If you’re doing a love story, make it a character study or an important aspect of a larger story with more of a plotline. Love stories by themselves are really hard to do. For example, Romeo and Juliet wasn’t just a love story. It was actually a story about the tragedy of blind prejudice and the heightened emotions involved with youth. Wall-E, on the other hand, worked so well because of the romance between the robots. It wasn’t just a cautionary tale about the effects of destroying the planet but a movie with a lot of heart.
Trying to take on a love story involves a lot of thought and effort. If you’re not adding in other aspects, then the characters need to be particularly compelling and the dialogue has to be more engaging. Establishing chemistry needs to rely on the strength of the characters (and actors of course) and not conventional tropes and manipulative music. If you are adding more, make sure that you actually incorporate your premise because the immortality aspect of the movie was done incredibly shallowly. From the trailer, it’s clear that this movie was more focused on fantasy than ground-breaking cinema but it could not provide enough charm to cover up its deficiencies.
One of the other problems is our dear Blake Lively. She’s not a bad actress and she definitely looks the part. I don’t think that there’s ever a time when she isn’t the physical epitome of beauty and glamour but this is a movie and she needed to bring personality to the table. To be fair, it’s not entirely her fault and also has to do with the way she’s written. Adaline is a very flat, doll-like embodiment of the ideal. She is perfectly poised, eloquent and reeks of superiority and perfectionism. She isn’t so much arrogant but rather holds a kind of effortless way about her. Everything seems to fall into her lap and she has no discernable personality or ambition outside of holding people captive in her allure. She represents everything we wish people would perceive of us. She is beautiful, kind, “wise”, multilingual, witty and well-read. This is why it’s a shame that she’s the lead and treated as an actual person but written like a distortion of somebody’s idea of a dream-girl. She’s a bit too confident and doesn’t project the kind of fragility and wonder that would have made her more relatable. I read a review where the author stated that someone like Amy Adams would be more suited. The wiki page on this movie also mentioned that Natalie Portman was offered the role but turned it down. This made me imagine both these actresses in the role instead and made me realise what Blake Lively was lacking. Natalie Portman and Amy Adams have both mastered the art of a kind of quiet confidence and delicateness that make them sympathetic. Blake Lively, on the other hand, seemed to be reprising her role of perfect “it” girl from Gossip Girl.
I mentioned earlier on that this movie did bring me some happiness. That happiness was from the love interest’s abs (Michiel Huisman) and Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford was the only well-rounded character with a more absorbing conflict. His character suffers from being hit with a wave of ardour at first seeing her (we get it, she’s perfect). Turns out he was one of Adaline’s victims and was planning on proposing her to years ago, only to have her flee in order to maintain her secret. This establishes a look into the blanket of nostalgia, lost love and youth. It opens up an exploration of the ephemeral nature of time, the what if? moments we experience and a comparison of dreams vs reality. Adaline is the dream-girl only meant to exist in selective memory and his current situation with his seemingly conventional family life is his reality. He drifts off into melancholic reminiscing of the “wise and beautiful” girl he once knew. Upon seeing her, distant memories come to life and he holds a very obvious sentimentality towards those times. What would his life have been like if she had said yes? I think we all have that person (or will encounter a person) that was abruptly torn from our lives against our bests efforts. I have moments where I fantasise about an alternate reality in which things had panned out differently –the way they were “supposed to”. We don’t know what the true implications for this sudden steering in our life would be but we have a sort of hopeless phantasmal imagining of that person and our alternate self as a result. This is why I think Harrison Ford’s character would be a far better protagonist with a more engaging story to tell.
This movie was safe. It was very, very safe together with a nice ribbon to tie up loose ends and give a conventional feel-good ending. It’s easy to watch and readily digestible provided you don’t think too hard about it (why did no one bring up how creepy it was for her deep involvement with both father and son?). Blake Lively fits the mould of a protagonist able to pander to the kind of audience who would want to see it. She’s likeable enough and perfectly sculpted physically and as a character to escort us on a rendezvous of love story tropes and romantic flashbacks.
Even though I’ve pretty much just written an amateur, disapproving review of the movie I want to explore the success of recruiting such a character. What we like can tell us a lot about ourselves. Does the use of a character of this nature make us want to strive to be her or merely fantasise about being this person? Can Adaline be a facet of who we really are or is she just an image of who we want to project? I still maintain that perfect people are perfectly boring. Perfection is an impossible, one-dimensional, abstract notion that does more to hinder than to motivate. Perfection is effortless. It exists uniformly. You cannot strive for it as it exists naturally in a certain state, if it does exist at all. By nature it resists the concept of effort and failure. It cannot be taken away but is something that just is. For that reason it cannot truly be attained. If you somehow reach this impossible feat there’s nothing left but down of course. You can aim to do something or know something to near perfection but you can’t be it. Everything is with flaw; at least everything that matters has it cuts and bruises. Perfection can only be manufactured and applied to things and not people. Perfection is for the lifeless and therefore Adaline is a lifeless character. Adaline has people constantly chasing after her and people being impressed by her. She does not chase her dreams and there are no scenes of her working to earn this respect but rather her naturally adept mind draws people to her. In this way she conveys a subtle power. She doesn’t seem to even have any dreams as she has to relinquish one life in exchange for a new identity every couple of years but she has a collective knowledge that she doesn’t seem to do much with. Again this represents an embodiment of the ideal and not of an actual person going through the trials and tribulations of life and the sweat and tears of exercising one’s mind to attain such knowledge and wisdom. Her intellect is a tool to heighten her appeal and not a means of achieving a purpose.
Don’t be afraid of your imperfections. They make you who you are. The more you scrape away at your flaws, the more lifeless you become. Weaknesses don’t exist to be extricated but to enhance our strengths.