[follow id = “CPMustangArts”]
Before the floodgates open and theaters are filled with nothing but blockbusters until August, it seems like a good time to pause and look back on the past year in romantic movies — not that 2015 has been a particularly good year for romance on film.
Back in February, “Fifty Shades of Grey” landed in theaters and caused its viewers to ask, “Why am I watching this?” Despite its rockin’ soundtrack and a first act that felt like an offbeat, bumbling romantic comedy, “Fifty Shades” went off the rails when it made attempt after attempt at being sexy.
Recently, moviegoers have been treated to the Blake Lively vehicle, “The Age of Adaline,” and the newest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, “The Longest Ride.”
“The Longest Ride”
Sophia (Britt Robertson, who will star alongside George Clooney in “Tomorrowland”) is a college senior ready to move to New York and get her start in the art world. Her sorority sister Marcia (Melissa Benoist of “Glee” and soon-to-be “Supergirl” fame) drags Sophia to a bull-riding event.
“I don’t see myself as a rodeo girl,” Sophia insists — but that doesn’t keep her from falling for bull rider Luke (Scott Eastwood). However, Luke’s rodeo days may be over, as the physical stakes of the sport begin to wear on him. Can the artist and the bull rider make it work? Stilted dialog and contrived romance follow.
After their first date, Sophia and Luke rescue Ira (Alan Alda) from a car wreck. The remainder of the movie divides its attention between the present and the 1940s, in which a young Ira (Jack Huston) and his wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin) deal with parallel — and occasionally resonant — relationship trouble.
During the movie’s many flashback sequences, Ira and Ruth look and behave more like postcards than people. The look of the 1940s is too slick — like a colorized black-and-white film — to allow us into the characters’ minds.
And while Robertson and Eastwood certainly aren’t the worst screen couple (they’d have to compete with Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in “Attack of the Clones” for that honor), sparks don’t exactly fly. This is unfortunate, since the movie is at its best when it shows Sophia’s and Luke’s worlds colliding.
“The Longest Ride” is the first Sparks abomination — I mean, adaptation — I’ve seen. My first rodeo, so to speak. Having never experienced “The Notebook” or any of Sparks’ other books-become-movies (cultural blind spot or personal point of pride?), I don’t know how closely “The Longest Ride” sticks to the formula he has laid out elsewhere. But it certainly feels formulaic.
Though Alda’s Ira tells us life is “the longest ride,” the movie itself may be the longest ride — clocking in at a sometimes unbearable 139 minutes. Thankfully, while it may still be a bit messy, “The Longest Ride” pulls itself together for a satisfying third act.
But enough about “The Longest Ride.”
“The Age of Adaline”
Even if its title may invite unfavorable comparisons to “Age of Ultron,” “The Age of Adaline” is a different movie — and while it doesn’t reinvent romance, it provides an original alternative to recent entries in the genre. The movie follows Adaline Bowman (Lively), a woman doomed to stay 29 years old forever for some quasi-scientific reason. After decades of avoiding commitment for fear of losing loved ones to time, Adaline is “tired of running and lying to good people.”
Apart from her daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn), Adaline’s only constant companions have been a lineage of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Her current spaniel, Reese (whose acting duties are shared by canine actors Hunter and Riley), spends his days waiting for Adaline to come home from work at the library archives, where she gets glimpses of her past. Adaline’s decadeslong routine of running away is upset by Ellis (Michiel Huisman), who catches her eye at a New Year’s Eve gala. As their relationship gets off the ground, Ellis encourages Adaline to “let go.”
Harrison Ford also makes a memorable appearance as William, a former paramour of Adaline’s whose presence causes her to question her newfound happiness. Ford makes good use of the role, evoking Han Solo or Indiana Jones during a scene in which he runs through a forest just a little slower than he would have in his heyday.
Perhaps the greatest strength of “The Age of Adaline” is that — despite its fantastic premise — it doesn’t take itself too seriously. “Adaline” is at its weakest when it tries to generate artificial tension. Early in the film, Adaline flees from FBI agents who are pursuing her with presumably harmful intent. While this action may be suspenseful, Adaline’s own insecurities are enough reason for the viewer to buy her perpetual flight from loved ones.
Apart from missteps such as this, the movie feels surprisingly organic. When Lively and Huisman’s line deliveries falter, they capture the cadence of real human speech. As graceful as Lively’s Adaline is, she isn’t safe from embarrassment or awkward moments, and the scenes she shares with Huisman are enjoyable not only because both actors are gorgeous, but because their interactions can be cringe-inducingly uncomfortable. (That’s what love is, right?)
To its credit, “The Age of Adaline” isn’t focused on creating picture-perfect moments between its leads. This lends the movie a naturalism which “Fifty Shades” and “The Longest Ride” lost through their inhuman dialogue and obvious plotting. If these movies could get over their self-seriousness, perhaps the genre could wake up out of its tired state. After all, wasn’t “Fifty Shades” at its best when Anastasia drunk-dialed Christian? Didn’t “The Longest Ride” shine the brightest when it finally ended?