“The Age of Adaline”’s director, Lee Toland Krieger, swung by Austin, Texas to discuss the film. I was slightly taken aback, yet immediately won over, by his charming demeanor. His first time in Austin, we chatted briefly about the city and its offerings before moving on to discuss the alluring film.
While being classified as a romance, “The Age of Adaline” doesn’t carry that sickly sweet sappiness found in so many films exploring the genre. “As a man telling this story, I didn’t want it to be dripping with this unrealistic romance or the sort of saccharin elements we see in a lot of modern romances. To me, the hope was that it was more in touch with classical romance, like the 50’s era romantic films. The attempt was using those movies as touchstones, but also looking at it through the prism of it’s a story about seeing the beauty in growing old. It’s a story about what death means, what the finiteness of our lives means. It was never going to be a film that was all about romance. It was also going to be a film about aging and our mortality.”
This dynamic provides a sort of melancholy feel through much of the film, as Adaline’s isolation is beautiful portrayed by Blake Lively. The story steers clear of the clichés found in so many love stories and presents a tale of how the fear of loss allows us to distance ourselves from those we want to love. This is a love story on many levels, and a relatable one for those of us who don’t buy into the overly contrived scenarios of modern romantic films.
While not 100% plausible, the explanation of how Adaline ends up in her predicament allows audiences to more readily suspend disbelief and give into the “science” behind the situation. Aside from the story, numerous other factors elevate this film above the modern romance. Intriguing visual elements complement the telling of the story. “We were a modestly budgeted film, yet we have to see eight decades of our hero’s life. How do we really authentically create all of those eras? When we see Adaline in 1908, we were shooting on film with a hand-cranked camera. In the 50’s we were shooting on old anamorphic lenses.” Lee expressed that “getting those details right and yet keeping it so that it all felt like it was part of the same movie, that no vignette was too incongruous with the rest of the film,” was not only the most challenging part of making the film, but also incredibly exciting.
Even the costume design took into consideration concepts that could have so easily been overlooked. “Adaline grew up in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. That was really her true prime even though she’s physically in her prime throughout the film.” Lee’s understanding that the era in which we come of age tends to be our touchstone led him to want a certain consistency in her style. Angus Strathie, Academy Award winning costume designer from “Moulin Rouge,” immediately got that concept and ran with it, designing a variety of looks that change, yet harken back to a previous time. “A lot of the wardrobe we picked, I think it’s elegant and sort of speaks to her. Yes, we see a difference, but we still see the same woman. Her taste [while adapting to the times] is still being carried on through the eras.”
Casting the film also uncovered a hidden gem. After reading the script, Lee knew that William had to be played by Harrison Ford. “He’s a handsome charmer, yet real salt of the earth.” He’s really bright so he could be believable as William. “I think he is a lot like William. We were fortunate he read it, loved the script, and wanted to be a part of it.” Once Harrison was on board came the real challenge. Being such an iconic figure and having been on film in his 20’s, audiences know what a young Harrison should be and hold a certain attachment to that idea. How on earth would they find anyone who could live up to that standard?
Correctly casting the younger Harrison “was a big responsibility.” Luckily for Lee, there was this thing called the Internet, and a website discussing the new “Star Wars” movie. Thanks to a rumor that there would be a young Han Solo in the new film, the website had a list of names of who should play the young rogue. The list contained suggestions of familiar names, everyone from Chris Pratt, who was so perfect in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, to Xavier Samuel, the Australian actor who kind of looked like Harrison Ford. Amidst these names was an unknown name, Anthony Ingruber. Lee wondered, “Who is this kid, Anthony Ingruber?” He clicked on a link and “it’s him doing Harrison Ford impersonations, and I get the chills watching him. He’s literally channeling Harrison. I got really excited, then that feeling was immediately followed by ‘Oh, no. We can’t hire this guy. He’s just an impersonator. I don’t want an impersonator. I need a real actor. This is a real performance we need.’”
They continued searching for a younger Harrison, but fortunately for movie lovers everywhere, Lee could not let go of the idea of Anthony Ingruber in the part. He decided to research some more and found that Anthony had done quite a bit of acting in Canada. Eventually, the part was offered to him and his performance as a younger Harrison Ford was nothing short of remarkable. In fact, he was so incredible that a writer from the Wall Street Journal who’d seen the film called Lee and said ‘We want to do a story on how you digitally created young Harrison.’ The Wall Street Journal was not alone. A lot of people who’d seen the film made that same assumption because the performance is so believable as a younger Harrison, but guess what. “There was absolutely no manipulation there. There’s no CGI to his face. It’s Anthony’s voice….Harrison saw the film not long after we locked picture, and he called me. One of the first things he said, ‘Anthony is a miracle.’ To do Harrison justice in Harrison’s eyes is really meaningful.”
Even if you are not a fan of the genre, take a chance and see this film. It’s a visually interesting, well-constructed story about what love really is, without all the forced scenarios of those sappy romances that infest cinemas these days. If for no other reason, you owe it to yourself to witness a performance from an actor whom Harrison Ford himself considers “a miracle.”