Spectre – Sam Mendes (2015)

It has been forever since I’ve seen a Bond movie. And by forever, I mean, I’ve never seen one on the big screen, and the last one I can remember purposefully sitting down to watch all the way through was a VHS copy of Never Say Never Again that I got from the public library when I was a kid. Sure, I have seen most of the Bond films from the Connery era, all on cable television, and the Lazenby Bond film, and Casino Royale (the first version, with Woody Allen), and bits and pieces of many of the others, also on cable television. And I played Goldeneye to death on the N64 (but have no interest in the film, as Pierce Brosnan always seemed the Bond with the lowest yield). I even read a whole damn big glossy coffee table Bond fanbook from cover to cover! So somehow I know plenty about Bond, without really caring. Based on the trailer, I had no interest in seeing Spectre because, in truth, all the Daniel Craig Bond trailers have looked the same to me – palette of gunmetal, a perpetually cloudy sky, and little in the way of the trappings that have always screamed Bond. I understand the reason for this, as the Craig films are Bond 2.0, with a stripped down, “realistic,” (that is, dark) sensibility, and no taste for camp, cheese, or many of the colors of the rainbow. They have serious actors playing serious villains; no Donald Pleasence (God rest his soul) stroking his kitty while cookie cutter lamebrains “die” by jumping this way and that, but rather heavy hitters like Mads Mikkelsen and Javier Bardem coldly calculating the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Such is Bond in the age of global terror. But I was desperate – desperate for some escapism, and for a movie that wasn’t all talking, but heavier on the doing, even if what it was doing was of little consequence. And I like Christoph Waltz, although, if I am honest, it was the prospect of seeing Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux at 20 foot scale that sealed it for me. And yes, I am happy to report I was mercilessly entertained and even, at times, somewhat moved. (Say what?)

Spectre picks up after the events of Skyfall (which, having not seen, I assumed had more import than they do – more on that later). M (is for Mommy) Judy Dench is dead, and a sense of rebirth and/or the afterlife permeates the whole film. We get this from the first shot, which opens with Bond dropped into the Dios de la Muerte festivities in Mexico City, sent to dispatch an assassin by the end of the opening set piece, which is a goody. Although Bond accomplishes his task handily, new M Ralph Fiennes is none too pleased, as he did it without the proper indemnification, it seems. So Bond is ordered grounded, pending the reorganization of the double aught program into a new MI6 overseen by a young Orwellian data hungry war on terror type (Andrew Scott), C. C is hot to link up all the governmental surveillance operations of the world on the same intranet, and thus keep us all safe in a warm cocoon woven by this unblinking and fiery eye of cyberSauron. Bond, though, has captured a mysterious ring off the finger of the dispatched assassin which he wants to further investigate. He is thus, with a little help from Q (Ben Whishaw), forced to go AWOL, and travels to Italy to get the skinny from the assassin’s widow (a brief, brief, all too brief appearance by Ms. Bellucci). The widow informs Bond that the shady organization her husband worked for (Spectre, duh) is meeting in Italy that same night! Bond hightails it over there, in time to see a new court assassin appointed while discovering that Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man thought dead, is the chairman of the board. Barely escaping the palatial grounds of the malevolent mind-meld, Bond is pursued through the streets (and the rest of the movie) by said assassin, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista), who is hard to kill and likes to keep his fingernails long. He of course escapes, and is soon on the trail of Mr. White, a Spectre flunky who holds the secrets of the organization, but is dying of thallium poisoning. Mr. White doesn’t have much time, or incentive, to help, but he does have a daughter who knows where the secrets be hid, and so Bond agrees to protect the daughter if White tells him where to find her. It turns out daughter Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) works on the top of a mountain at an exclusive medical clinic – all the better for a nice set piece as Bond pursues her down the mountain in the clutches of Hinx. Retrieved, Swann and Bond go to Morocco, uncover the secret of Spectre’s location, and are eventually chauffeured there courtesy of Oberhauser – or, should I say, Blofeld! Blofeld and Bond have an interesting shared backstory, and eventually must do battle in London, with Swann’s life in the balance. About the climax, I will say no more, except that we learn how Blofeld got his blind eye (he had the kitty all along, apparently).

Spectre has everything that you want a Bond movie to have, plus some. There are big set pieces, bigger than life baddies, beautiful women, and, thanks to director Sam Mendes, action that is staged with clarity, a minimum of digital stupidity, and a very snappy script. Yes, the climax is ludicrous, and given the outcome is what we expect, they could have gone with a less is more approach. And yes, all of C’s, and M’s, rantings and waxings poetic (respectively) about democracy seem quaint to the point of camp. But this is Bond plus, and it is mostly due to the presence of Léa Seydoux. Not only is her character strong, and often Bond’s equal (although, yes, she does have to be rescued in the end), Seydoux is a remarkable actress and brings what could be a rote role to life, imbuing her scenes with a palpable sense of loss that gives weight to her connection with Bond – we care what happens in the end, and want both of them to live happily ever after. Moreover, Spectre feels like the summing up of the previous Craig Bond films; the introduction of Blofeld, and Spectre, ties together the previous story lines and marks the end of one era and the beginnings of another (post-Craig, perhaps?). In the aftermath of Skyfall, which was curiously flat and underwhelming, with action more fit for a Tom Clancy or Bourne movie and with the tedious and weird Oedipal overtones that made the whole film about M, Spectre plays almost like a swan song to the world of Bond as it was in the 1960s. That is, a world where democracy mattered (or at least seemed possible) and where systems of totalitarian techno control were harebrained schemes of evil geniuses, and not a fait accompli proffered up to techno “wizards” by a passive public. The last shot (which I won’t give away) feels like Bond is retreating back into the era from which he emerged, and to which the logics of his persona make most sense. We feel not nostalgia, exactly, but instead elegiac, sad at the distance between the world as it was, even fictionalized, and as it is now, so debased that it cannot be recouped into fiction without at the same time denying its own reality. Spectre deals with this split deftly, portraying M’s vision of saving democracy not without irony, but also never sneering at it – rather referencing it as the hopeful candy colored dream of a 20th century now long, and definitively, dead. (Or, like Bond, set to rise again?)

Four stars out of five

Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl – Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (2015)

It is the thickest part of the season of my discontent. On one side of me there lies a geriatric robot using himself, gallantly, as a human torpedo to keep the future safe for dragons on HBO. On the other side, there is the formerly formidable Vincent D’onofrio delivering a more compelling facsimile of Orson Welles than he did in Ed Wood. I, feeling unhappy that my blazon of filmic revelation had fallen temporarily silent, tried to thread the needle, and so ventured forth into the unknown night that is yet another tale of a chipmunk face, a cancer girl, and a detached black youth (tasked, as ever in Hollywoodland, with keeping it real). I entered hoping to laugh, to cry, or at least to fake it until I made it. I left unchanged, untouched, my memory of what transpired like a koan, written upside down in fine grain during a sandstorm. Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is ostensibly a serio-comic tearjerker, a product of the superbrain that guided eight episodes of Glee and one episode of The Carrie Diaries into port. I do not mean to slander Mr. Gomez-Rejon, for he has assuredly accomplished more in the way of putting images before the eyes of the public than have I. All the same, this film felt like a half-baked TV leftover, a drooper episode of Gilmore Girls written whilst on quaaludes. It aims neither high, nor low, but for the distinctly average; indeed, it feels as if written by a computer algorithm that churned through Rushmore and The Fault in Our Stars, averaging out the highs and lows, retaining the twee and sappy, and adding a black person. (Perhaps it is already ahead of the output of Wes Anderson in that department).

So what happens here? An “I’m charming because of my fake humility and fraudulent low self-esteem” narrator, the titular chipmunk-faced Me (Thomas Mann, also known as Greg, and not known as the creator of the Magic Mountain) is brow-beaten by his mother (Connie Britton) into spending time with a dying girl (Olivia Cooke, also known as Rachel) for what reason we cannot comprehend. (Mom is apparently a knee-jerk beeotch, dedicated to her son’s unhappiness). In requisite ironic deadpan fashion, Greg and Rachel trade lame jokes, and lame revelations, all the while slowly forming that dread connection known as friendship. Rachel has cancer. Greg makes insipid parodies of Hollywood films, with titles like Death in Tennis and Pooping Tom. He mimics Werner Herzog’s at this point played out monologue about the horrors of the jungle. He hangs out with Earl, who is his silent partner in auteurship and not a friend, but a “coworker.” As Rachel gets sicker, Greg and Earl pretend to be forced to regale her with their cinematic output (is there a connection here?). Soon, a hot girl that Greg likes discovers his secret life as a cineaste, and guilts him into making a movie explicitly for the dying girl. Greg, lame loafer that he is (I know, he is supposedly dragging his feet because he knows his tribute will kill her which, SPOILER, it does) hems, haws, and draws it all out until the last minute. As per usual given algorithmic averages, the film hinges on a scene where Rachel and Greg have a falling out, she wanting to be left alone to quit chemo and die, he wanting her to fight, fight to the end for his sake, all the while they both attempt to squeeze as much liquid out of their faces as they can. (They mostly fail). After this, Greg falls deeper into doldrums (if that is possible) and Rachel disappears from the scene, to be replaced, finally, by Earl (RJ Cyler) the only thing with life that we can see. (Perhaps the sequel will rightfully be titled Fuck Y’all – I’m Earl). The hot girl keeps hounding Greg to finish his movie before Rachel dies, and spurred on, I guess, by his continual demurrals, she asks him to the prom. He accepts, but fakes her out, at the last moment taking the limo curbside at the hospital, invading Rachel’s deathbed, and forcing her to go gently into that good night to the accompaniment of his last masterpiece (scored somehow, as is all of Greg’s life, by Eno). They make up in a way, she goes comatose, eyes wide open, during the credits, and Greg lumbers on into the future, probably making Hollywood films just like this one. (Earl, too cool and embarrassed to really be part of the movie, smokes another cigarette at her wake).

Yes, just like Greg, this movie is a hand lettered love note of insincerity. Greg pretends to have low self-esteem, to be humble and shy, but he is really, like Herzog in his jungle, a seething pit of self-regard, the reflecting mirror being the real death in front of him. Rachel, playing the role of witless helpmate, convinces Greg of his worth (that is, feeds his secretly monstrous ego) and encourages him to apply to Pitt. He gets accepted, and then, after he slips into his funk (triggered, no doubt, by having to make some real art that matters), gets unaccepted, as his grades slip into the funk along with him. His secretly controlling shrew of a mother goes apeshit (masking it brilliantly, just as Greg masks his truth) but no worries; dying girl spends her last moments on earth penning Penn a little death note asking them to take him back, explaining that his lack of effort was her fault, the price paid for friending the doomed. Yes, Greg’s career in sociopathy is capped by this new identity, as an auteur of fluff given weight by the departed soul of another (his film, an avant-garde homage to the dying girl’s pillows, mirrors the climax of Olivier Assayas’s portrait of another failed director salvaging a final project, 1996’s Irma Vep). The only one who sees through this charade (besides your truly, of course) is Earl, the existential hero of the film. (Cyler’s acting fits the reality of the script as no other performance does). Like the Eno score whose ambience gives the film what emotional weight it has, Earl at first seems like mere background, but gradually becomes the substantial center. No more than an observer, buffeted by the winds of chance, Earl acts when and where acting is needed: in the films du Greg; as witness to the narrative of faux suffering played out between Greg and Rachel; and, in a few key moments, as the bearer of reality’s burden (as when he fells Greg with a punch to the gut, an encounter which Greg, typically, describes as “getting into a fight”). Earl has no family other than an older brother who smokes blunts and sits on the porch with his pit bull; he has no motivation except to eat the food others proffer him; he has no anger, and no resentment, toward the pathetic role he has been dealt. Indeed, he silently revels in the naked absurdity of his position, forced to bear witness to the film’s (and by extension all of our) white lies. Earl could have rightfully popped a cap in everyone’s forehead, but he understands they, and we, are not worth the effort. He is merely biding his time, waiting for his own starring moment, which will be years from now, after all these caricatured cuttlefish munchers and pâté eaters have fallen into obscurity. (Is it coincidence that his is the only name enshrined in the title?) At that future moment, Earl will emerge as the true auteur, not of a script as woeful and drained of effort as this, but of the secret film that lies hidden within, the reality of which the likes of Greg, and our dear director, could not bother to imagine. Perhaps in his dying moments, Greg will realize that it was Earl all along – Earl who neutered Greg’s films while making them possible, Earl who pulled the strings to ensure Greg only got into Pitt, Earl who stood tall as the true moose that stomped Greg’s chipmunk face into the ground again and again. As Greg drops his snow globe to the floor in his basement apartment Xanadu, what name will play upon his lips? The name of Earl.

Two stars out of five

Love and Mercy – Bill Pohlad (2015)

Our year has thus far provided an embarrassment of riches for fans of the biopic. And good for them! Me as well, as normally I would skip most biopics, but this year, soldiering on in the name of variety rather than cherry-picking, I have been exposed to many a chronicle of lived reality. Thankfully, they have been worthy of consideration, not a mediocrity among them. At first glance, Love and Mercy seems an oddity, as it scopes out a life that, while worthy of consideration, has not pressed itself upon us of late with its necessity. I hope we can all agree that Brian Wilson is a musical genius, and not in need of rehabilitation or, as the credits to this film suggest, publicity. The film does not labor extensively to prove his mettle, nor does it serve as a hit parade except in the most minor of ways. Indeed, the film feels slight in scope; really, though, it is simply a focused, fairly quiet and gentle film, which, like Mr. Wilson, might have its humility mistaken for lightness. The movie focuses on two Brian Wilsons, without feeling the need to tie the two together, or make any heavy causative moves connecting one to the other. The majority of the film is dedicated to portraying a particularly unglamorous, and perhaps even undramatic, time in Wilson’s life, during which he was under the control, mentally and, it seems, legally, of one Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), a squat, paunchy Svengali with a temper and a weird haircut. This Brian (John Cusack) is far beyond his heyday, and while still creative, spends much of his time battling his demons with no particular help from the doc, whose therapeutic techniques were developed at the school of fighting fire with gasoline. We have a feeling the good doctor is shady, but we are unsure, as we don’t know Wilson enough to tell if he’s as bad off as the doctor says he is. Wilson certainly doesn’t disagree with him, so how would we know? Enter one Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a Cadillac saleswomen and soon to be girlfriend of Mr. Wilson, who is our cinematic avatar within the weird world of So-Cal post-fame. She meets Wilson while he is shopping for a car, and despite the ever-looming presence of Dr. Feelbad, manages some alone time with him while they proceed to date. The tale of how she manages to liberate him from the constraints of not only the doctor, but of his own inner demons, comprises the main narrative thread. The film often cuts back in time, portraying a younger Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) in the period of his ascendancy, slightly before Pet Sounds until slightly after Good Vibrations and the aborted release of Smile. The film smartly does not attempt to explain the more recent Wilson with reference to the past one; even better, it does not use the past Wilson as a vehicle for mindless genius worship or the petty psychology we often get in such films. Instead, this past tale serves as a primer on Wilson, not just for the uninitiated (although for them too) but by way of showing where his particular problems began as counterpoint to where he winds up. This past thread also has the purpose of explicating his particular type of creativity, showing it in full force and also portraying the kinds of problems, social and not just mental, that resulted from his unique talents. There is not much suspense involved – really, the only question the film asks, narratively, is whether old Wilson will get the girl, be free of the evil doctor, and live happily ever after.

What is refreshing about the film, aside from its lack of pretensions, is that it places Melinda Ledbetter front and center, not only as our way into this world, but as the reason for, and star of, this film. Just as much as this is a portrait of Brian Wilson, it is a picture of romantic love that we don’t get much in popular culture these days. Melinda is not a particular fan of Brian’s work, nor the handmaiden dedicated to renewing his genius; we get the feeling that she cares about his abilities only insofar as they are part of who he is. She is not his foil, nor his steadfast, loyal support (although she is that as well); she is partly his savior, but only insofar as anyone who cared about him deeply might be. She is, in fact, not extraordinary in any way (okay, she does look like Elizabeth Banks), but simply a woman who, although in love, is mature enough to realize it might not work out. At the same time, what she cannot abide is leaving someone in a bad place when she has the power to help them out. And she does help him out, aiding him not just because she loves him, but because Landy is a blot that needs to be wiped out. Thus, she is a powerful woman who is also an everyday person, and by the end, we feel like this film is Wilson’s love letter to her. The great thing is that her power is not represented as a contrast to Wilson’s “weakness.” A strong aspect of the film is its suggestion that what made Wilson a sonic innovator also made him inclined to social maladaptation. Indeed, the sonic landscape of this film is its strongest suit; the sound design is subtle and incisive, with great secondary music as well as sculpted collages of Wilson’s output that provide portraiture of his interiority. The scene where Wilson loses it at a dinner party, unable to stop himself from obsessively focusing on the continual clatter of cutlery against china, is a great example of the melding of genius and madness. In most films, the clatter would build increasingly, perhaps underscored by the menacing thrumb of some ascending bass strings; here, however, we share in Wilson’s vision, as the clatter is musical, fascinating and unnerving. It gives us insight into Wilson’s musical interior, and also humanizes him, all by performing his reality for us. Partly due to Cusack’s strong performance (his best in ages), partly due to Banks, and partly to the script, we never feel that Wilson’s weirdness is particularly weird; there are no rote sequences of Melinda being shocked by Brian, of having to get over his quirks, or being put off by his manner in any way. This is a film about real people, not stereotypes, and while the ending is typically happy, it feels earned. Sometimes the universe does send the person you need at just the time you need them. Sometimes it helps to be a one-of-a-kind genius, too.

Three and a half stars out of five

Results – Andrew Bujalski (2015)

What do you get when you take two middle-aged men, one a buff gym owner, the other a pudgy schlub, and add a young, hot female personal trainer with attitude? You get Results. What are those results, you ask? They are this movie. A movie, in which three people interact, now graces our screens. How do they interact? This is a comedy, so the stakes are low. The narrative concerns Trevor (Guy Pearce), who owns a gym and is looking to expand to a larger space, and Kat (Cobie Smulders), a younger personal trainer who works with/under Trevor, and who has trouble retaining clients because of her semi-abrasive manner. This snow globe of hilarity is cracked, if not shattered, by Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a lumpy middle-aged man who does little but sit around the house all day, drinking, getting high, and noodling on his guitar. He is not only our entree into the story, but our avatar within this fitness universe. Danny has a lot of free time because, in a freakish stroke of good luck, he recently inherited a massive amount of money. Seemingly knocked from his everyday perch, he now inhabits the world as a cross between a Beckett character and John Belushi in Animal House. He pays anyone he meets hundreds of dollars to accomplish the most meager tasks, just so he doesn’t have to bother with them and/or use his brain. He decides to employ Trevor’s services so he can get into shape, happens to spot Kat, and takes a liking to her. Kat, wanting to gain and keep good clients, likes Danny. She goes to his house periodically and helps him exercise. Danny is not creepy or even overly interested, but we know he likes her. Eventually, as Danny more and more lets it all hang out, Kat happens to spy his smoking equipment laying around, and he invites her back later that evening to partake. She does, and, coupled with some drinking, is soon making out with him, then rounding to third base (at which point the film demurs). Afterward, she has second thoughts, and while not particularly regretful, feels she has to break it off with Danny for professional reasons. Danny then goes back to Trevor, at the same time that Trevor and Kat are reheating as an item (we have heard that they dated back in the day). Trevor has more feelings for her than she for him (seemingly), while Danny still holds on to some desire for her. Kat wants Trevor, but there are some issues having to do with Trevor being angry at Danny for some reason…

You know, this movie is damned hard to remember. In fact, it is completely forgettable. I feel like I’m piecing together the most boring dream narrative ever, or an episode of Passions from eight years ago. To fast forward, by the end of the movie, Kat and Trevor have confessed their love for each other, and joined forces to dominate the fitness market of their locality. Danny, having disappeared halfway through the movie to allow Trevor and Kat to ascend, returns briefly as the would-be satyr / martyr who sacrificed his side of the love triangle for the good of all. He throws a house party, after trying (and succeeding) to buy some sorority girls to party with him, and everyone boogies around as the credits roll (with copious smooching from Kat and Trevor). Who the hell cares? This film doesn’t seem to know what it is. In reality, it is a fairly boring, quite straightforward love story set in the world of personal training (gag). The jokes are very gently observational, like Seinfeld playing Vegas in 2027. To the front end of this film is stitched a fake-out story about buying love and unrequited lust and feeling empty and out of shape, a kind of lower-depths Roxanne in the throes of an identity crisis. The problem is that we are interested in Danny, as he is our representative in the world of beautiful people, and we want him to be a contender. So when the movie discards him, we feel discarded, and further, we feel bored. The zest (and meaning) this film could have had would have come from Danny, clichéd though it may be, fighting his way back into Kat’s heart (or at least making a case for himself). Danny already has a back story that is very flimsy and hard to swallow, so by ditching him halfway through, only to bring him back for the stupid winking ending, the filmmaker shows him for what he is – a device, not a character, and a malfunctioning one at that. The whole thing makes no sense. It’s like Bujalski, while writing the script, arrived at the pivot in the film, the moment of tension in his story, where he would have to actually develop something meaningful out of a bumpy setup, and flinched. Far easier to simply use Danny as the longest meet cute in film history, and then play out another half hour of Kat and Trevor bantering, forming business partnerships, and smooching. The acting is fine – I lay the fault squarely on the shoulders of the director/writer. Yes, the film is gently humorous. Yes, there was nothing offensive about spending 105 minutes watching it. All the same, there is something annoying about the whole enterprise – like the name Cobie Smulders, it gets under your skin, and, pleasant enough though it may be on first encounter, on recollection, one feels more and more disappointed and grumpy. Worry not, though, because unlike the name Cobie Smulders, memories of the film will melt away easily. In 2027, as I’m watching Seinfeld in Vegas, were someone to approach me and ask me about this film, I am confident I will remember not a thing about it… except the name Cobie Smulders.

Two stars out of five

The Age of Adaline – Lee Toland Krieger (2015)

That’s right, I saw this movie. I have a heart, and like it to be exercised occasionally. If only The Age of Adaline had given it the workout I was hoping for! This is the story of a woman who is trapped in the nightmare of looking like Blake Lively. Born at the turn of the 20th century, Adaline, upon acheiveing maturity, marries a young engineer, gives birth to a little girl, and then is promptly laid low by the unexpected death of her husband, felled by an accident during the construction of the Golden Gate bridge. (The majority of the movie takes place in San Francisco). Making her way as a young single mother, things take a turn for the weird, if not worse, when her car, caught in a freak snowfall on the way to visit her parents’ cabin in the woods, veers off the road, and into an icy body of water (river? lake? I don’t recall). She effectively dies from hypothermia (not drowning?), or so we are told by a pseudo-scientific voice on the soundtrack, but is jolted back to life when her watery grave is struck by an even freaker bolt of lightning. This gets her heart going again, sends her crashing back into the airy reality all but merfolk are forced to exist within, and also compresses her RNA mitochondria (or something like that), giving her the freak trifecta and winning her eternal youth – stuck forever at age 29. We get a general sense via montage that life at 29 is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when your daughter starts to look like your sister, then your mother, then a very old Ellen Burstyn. Hassled by the Feds during the Red Scare for nothing more than looking damn good at 46, Adaline goes underground, changing her identity, and her locale, when needs be. This paranoia, goaded on, we suspect, more by existential issues than by fear of winding up vivisected in a government lab, or worse, as the last cover girl L’Oreal will ever require, causes her to become hermetic in order to avoid the allergen of intimacy. Hence, her windfall is squandered, and this lovely, old fashioned, and, by the present day, incredibly learned and accomplished lady has not had a date in half a century. There was one suitor who wormed his way in, back in the swinging ’60s, but he was jilted, left in the lurch on a park bench clutching his engagement ring, never to know why Adaline scorned the affections that she also sought out.

Cut to the present day, where Adaline, not looking a day over 29, duh, is working in the San Fran library, and in the company only of a dog whose lineage is as vintage and untouched as her own (sired, seemingly, by parthenogenesis). Friends with a blind pianist, she is invited along to a gig at a swanky hotel downtown on New Year’s Eve. It is here that the saga of love begins, as she is spied across a crowded room by Ellis (Michiel Huisman), a massively rich coder philanthropist gadabout, who helps himself to a meet cute in the elevator. He pursues her doggedly, and she, old fashioned as she is, rebuffs, refuses, and then, eventually, relents (being modern enough it turns out to hop into bed on date two). She tries to ditch him, claiming she is moving to Oregon (which she is, to be near her aged daughter), but his stalkerish ways eventually convince her, and she travels with him to meet his family. This is where the movie picks up what emotional content it has, for, in a turn of events either romantic or incredibly awkward and with a perverted lining, Ellis’s father is indeed her old ’60s jiltee, William (Harrison Ford). Now happily married with kids, one of whom Adaline enjoys having sex with, William nearly swallows his false teeth upon seeing this seeming revenant, and for a while at least buys into the argument that she’s really Adaline’s daughter (she goes by the name Jenny these days). A telltale scar gives away the secret, and Adaline/Jenny flees the happy home, despite William’s pleading that she not repeat history and leave Ellis an island. Luckily for everyone, Adaline encounters another freak snowstorm on her way out of the woods, winds up in a gully (although not submerged), and helped along again by cold weather and an EMT with a defibrillator, she is brought back not only to life, but into the stream of life, her mitochondria stretching out comfortably and giving a sigh after 70 tense years. Ellis and Adaline reunite in the hospital, she spills the beans about being forever young, and they live happily ever after – or for maybe 40 more years, as even more happily, Adaline discovers she is no longer a spring chicken and is, indeed, going gray.

I fully admit that was more glib than the film actually warrants, but everyone needs some fun. Truly, the film is not awful. The tone, I think, is supposed to be modern-day fairy tale, what with the gently intoning voice-over, continual coinkydinks and all. The problems are not major; there is simply little feeling to the proceedings, little weight. I blame the acting. Blake Lively is fine as Adaline – she is not deep, but she gets the job done, and the role asks her to be little more than a pretty face that is tormented by that fact. (Okay, more like somewhat depressed and sulky). Huisman is a bigger problem. He lacks charisma, and his line readings are stilted – both of them seem like they’re rushing through their dialogue, which undercuts whatever chance the script had of being affecting (it is literate and does not lack for some degree of intelligence). So the first part of the movie is, like Adaline, pretty and amusing for its surface charms – where else can we see “A trip down Market Street before the fire,” circa 1906, blown up to be the equal of Vin Diesel’s bicep? – but it is otherwise dull. We keep waiting for the emergence of, if not heat, then at least light, and begin to fear that all is vanity. That is, until the oldsters arrive on the scene. Harrison Ford does his best acting work in ages (not a high bar to meet, admittedly) as the non-pervy old man who desperately wants to spare his dull, muscly son the pain that he endured so many years ago. (Seeing him galumph through the forest, trying to catch up to Adaline, is indeed heartening). Ellen Burstyn also does admirable work, bringing true depth and believability to the awkward situation of looking like your own great-grandmother – the scene at the end, in the hospital, where she says, unbelieving, “He knows?” in response to Adaline’s revelation that Ellis has just been brought up to speed was indeed effective, raising a lump in my throat as it revealed the true weight, and cost, of forcibly kept secrets, even as blithe and loopy a one as this. Otherwise… eh. The fairy tale aspect has validity if we consider the plight of women trapped by a culture obsessed with youth and beauty at all costs, but this heft is undercut by the voice-over which, acceptable as a mood setter, albeit a nutty one, at the film’s opening, devolves into outright laughability in the finale (where it should have been cut). Not a good film, not a bad film, very few highs, no lows. One and a half lumps in the throat. I have nothing more to say – I can hardly believe I’ve gone this far.

Two and a half stars out of five