“The Age of Adaline”
1 hour, 52 minutes
Narration in film has a long history, going all the way back to a time when there was no sound and narrative cards told the story along with the action. These days the practice has gone out of style somewhat, reserved mostly for fantasy or other high concept films where the storyteller’s voice won’t seem so out of place.
In the 1930s and 40s, narration was often used in film noir to help keep the audience up to speed on the labyrinthine plots. In 1982’s “Blade Runner,” a sci-fi detective saga starring Harrison Ford, narration was added to the finished film because the studio worried that no one would know what was going on. The movie is a classic, but the narration was widely panned as being too obvious.
That this week’s light little character drama would have not one, but two things in common with one of the giant films of science fiction comes as a bit of a surprise, but, indeed, “The Age of Adaline” co-stars Harrison Ford and has completely superfluous narration.
“Adaline” tells the tale of a woman born in 1908. Adaline, played adequately but without much spark by Blake Lively, is a normal woman of her time until one day in 1933 she drives her car into a pond, goes hypothermic, and then is struck by lightning. This has the effect of completely halting the aging process, and for the next 80 or so years, our heroine has to move from place to place, changing her identity once a decade. Things get complicated when she falls in love with Ellis Jones, a hunky young philanthropist who also happens to be the son of William Jones (Ford), who had a brief but powerful affair with Adaline in the 1960s. How will Adaline navigate these murky waters? And will she be able to finally have a life?
“Adaline” is slight, but enjoyable. It feels like it might be a much better book, the strictures of a two-hour movie leaving most of Adaline’s adventures on the cutting-room floor. We get a vague hint of shadowy government agents trailing her, and little snippets of her past lives, but mostly the story sticks to the modern day, which is probably the least interesting time of her life.
Lively spends much of her performance playing it world-weary, which makes sense in the present, but doesn’t give much room for nuance. Ford does a fine job in a relatively small role, managing his trademark intensity tinged with overwhelming emotion.
The most problematic element, however, is the aforementioned narration which comes and goes and manages to both explain things that are obvious and demystify things that should stay mysterious. The narrator completely removes the magic, and in a movie like this, there’s not much else to grasp onto.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
1 hour, 46 minutes
Narration can come in several forms. It can take on the disembodied voice of the author, as it does in “Adaline,” or it can come from one of the characters — a side character ala “Gatsby” or, in the case of the other film I watched this week, “The Drop,” it can come from the main character himself.
To be fair, “The Drop” doesn’t feature so much a narration as it does an opening statement and a closing one, but maybe that’s all the narration a movie really needs. “The Drop” is a crime story from Dennis Lehane, who also wrote “Mystic River,” and “Gone Baby Gone” among others, and while isn’t quite up to those two films, is excellent in its own right.
Tom Hardy stars as Bob, the long suffering bartender to his cousin Marv, the bar manager, played by James Gandolfini in his last role. The bar, named “Cousin Marv’s” because it used to belong to him, before he was bought out by bigger and badder criminals, is what’s known as a drop bar, because it, along with a random assortment of others, is a receptacle for dirty money that is filtered throughout the city.
When the bar is robbed one night, it puts everyone on edge and the true depths people will go to either get what they want, or keep what they have, is revealed.
I was incredibly impressed by this intense film, a long slow burn that pays off spectacularly. Tom Hardy’s performance is stellar — understated and quiet, but completely believable. Gandolfini plays Marv not as Tony Soprano, but as a guy that probably idolized Tony Soprano. Marv imagines a past as a big shot, but has lost everything and is unable to deal with the change.
There is a fascinating and bizarre subplot involving Bob, a battered pit bull puppy, and Noomi Rapace (from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) that seems like it’s just an odd diversion until it all wraps around in the end.
I highly recommend “The Drop,” especially if you enjoy crime stories. Or bar stories. Or dog stories. Or if you simply like great movies.
“The Age of Adaline” is rated PG-13 for “a suggestive comment.” I don’t know what that means, although if there was even an example of a movie getting a PG-13 for marketing reasons, this is it. “Adaline” is a solid PG if I’ve ever seen one.
“The Drop” is rated R for pervasive language and gruesome violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.