It’s happening! It’s finally here! Everybody get ready for Age of… Adaline. Oh.
The Age of Adaline is about Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) as she struggles to retain her humanity after a bolt of lightning freezes her at 29 years old in the 1930s. Bowman has been changing her identity and moving to a new place at regular intervals for 60 years and avoided making emotional attachments because people will grow old on her and die, though she’s clearly just fine having a dog. On the eve of one of these shifts, she meets Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), who dotes on her and forces her into a relationship she says she doesn’t want to get into. Eventually, they go to celebrate Jones’ parents’ 40-year wedding anniversary and discover that his father, William (Harrison Ford), is an old love of Bowman’s.
Despite its primitive nature as a storytelling method, there are several reasons to use narration in a movie. It can provide insight into a character’s state of mind and decision-making process, add background details that are otherwise unexplained or simply be a poetic, stylistic choice like in Sin City. It should not be used, however, to explain everything as it’s happening to the audience like we’re a bunch of fucking idiots.
The Age of Adaline feels like a date with someone who explains all his jokes right after he makes them because he thinks you’re a moron. Hugh Ross goes through every detail of Bowman’s accident, shot by shot by shot, talking about all the atmospheric conditions and how the moon affects the weather and going into a cheeky bullshit scientific explanation — “It’s OK you don’t know this is possible, the condition won’t be discovered until 2035!” the film says, patting viewers on the head out of pity for their feeble minds — of Bowman’s condition. He then explains everything she’s ever done in her entire life and why, all the way up till 2014.
It’s invasive, it’s beyond annoying and it’s condescending to the point of being outright offensive. The narration sequences make it clear exactly what Lionsgate Films thinks of you — that you’re simply too small-minded to understand these big medical concepts, like whether or not it’s snowing. The ironic part is these sequences are fantastically shot and edited and would be the best parts of the film were it not for this annoying voice trying to hold your hand through them.
The movie tries to wrestle with big concepts like love and the importance of mortality, but it reduces these things to their most basic terms. Bowman’s condition’s only real use is as a hollow excuse to cause romantic tension between herself and Ellis Jones. The whole movie turns into a simple will-they-won’t-they. A story about an immortal woman is reduced to one tryst that takes place over a couple of weeks. And the movie thinks its viewers are the small-minded ones.
The condescension isn’t the most offensive thing about The Age of Adaline — it’s also got a nasty, rapey feel to its central relationship. There’s a troublingly blurry line between when to accept rejection and when to be persistent about getting to know someone, and Jones does a questionable but not entirely inappropriate job of walking this line, until he tracks down Bowman’s address and shows up on her doorstep because she wasn’t returning his calls. The movie then has a scene where Bowman apologizes for chewing him out, actually saying, “You’ve been very generous with me… I know better now.” Sometimes, people close themselves off to love for various reasons and need convincing to open themselves up again, but there’s a line that can’t be crossed. This is categorical stalking, and the movie implies that it’s OK.
Art is supposed to elicit an emotional response, but anger at the fact that this particular piece of art even exists is probably not the response one should be going for.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Happy trails, Ralph. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.