THE AGE OF ADALINE – Rob Simonsen
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
Immortality, or at least postponing the ageing process, has been an obsession for the human race for hundreds of years. But very few people ever think of the actual consequences, and what it would mean if something like that were to actually occur. Everyone you knew and loved would grow old and die while you remained the same, and you would constantly be forced to move to new places before anyone noticed your lack of maturity. In short, it would be a very lonely life. This concept is explored in director Lee Toland Krieger’s new romantic fantasy-drama The Age of Adaline, which stars Blake Lively in the titular role as a woman born at the turn of the 20th century who, after an accident, miraculously stops ageing entirely. Having finally resigned herself to her fate, and after many solitary years, she meets a man who complicates the eternal life she has settled into, and who may finally expose her secret to the world. The film co-stars Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, and Game of Thrones’s Michiel Huisman, and has an original score by the talented Rob Simonsen.
I first encountered Rob Simonsen’s name in 2009, when he collaborated with Mychael Danna on the score for the excellent but short-lived sci-fi TV show Dollhouse. Danna and Simonsen would go on to work together on scores like 500 Days of Summer, Moneyball, and the Oscar-winning Life of Pi, and Simonsen gradually broke out on his own, writing the scores for films like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World in 2012, The Way Way Back and The Spectacular Now in 2013, and Wish I Was Here and the critically acclaimed Foxcatcher last year. What’s interesting to me is that, while his music has always been appropriate for each project, Simonsen seemed to be edging towards being typecast as an ‘indie drama’ composer, pigeonholed into writing light orchestral-pop scores for films that never really showcased his real talent. This stands in contrast to his mentor Danna’s career, which has grown exponentially over the last 15 years or so, to encompass scores in a multitude of different genres. However, finally, The Age of Adaline appears to be the score which may push Simonsen’s career trajectory back towards the direction I feel it should go; the score is lovely, sentimental, and intimate, making use of much larger orchestral forces than we have heard from him of late, and containing a fair amount of heart and pathos.
To capture the century-spanning range of Adaline’s story, Simonsen uses a predominantly orchestral ensemble, with emphasis on strings and piano, and with just a little bit of electronic enhancement to give the score a fantastical, magical ambiance. The main theme, for Adaline herself, is mostly heard on the piano. Simonsen himself describes it as “something melancholic and pretty, yet not too sad,” and this description is very fitting indeed; it’s performances in “At Home,” the twinkling “January 1st, 1908,” “Hospital Confessions,” and the conclusive “To a Future With an End” are first-rate, capturing Adaline’s innocence and desire to be loved, but counterbalancing it with a touch of wistful resignation – all this despite it occasionally reminding me of Hans Zimmer’s “Tennessee” theme from Pearl Harbor!
A secondary motif, representing the various romantic relationships Adaline enters into, and is forced to withdraw from, occurs throughout the score, but is never actually heard in its entirety. Simonsen says, “I wrote it away from picture and there was never a scene long enough to play it. However, by repeating the opening phrases of the love theme, it has a quality of getting stuck in the ‘starting out’ mode, which is fitting for Adaline, who is stuck in time, repeating things in her life over and over, and a woman resistant to letting anything develop.” This idea of things beginning but never resolving is apt, and lends several cues a frustrating, but wholly appropriate, sense of uncertainty.
However, beyond these two main central ideas, much of the rest of the score is made up of little more than light, elegant chord progressions, which are appealing enough on their own terms, but somehow seem insubstantial. It’s almost as if Simonsen wrote the chords and the rhythmic ideas, but never continued to write any kind of thematic presence, which has been a recurring development in Hollywood over the years. It’s all very lovely, filled with delicate orchestrations for strings, piano, harp, flute, and light metallic percussion, and when the soft cooing tones of a choir comes in – as it does in cues such as the opening “Adaline Bowman,” “The Scar,” and the gorgeous “Coming Back to Life” with it’s see-saw cello writing – it’s all perfectly enjoyable. Unfortunately, it vanishes from your memory almost the instant it finishes, like a floating feather in the wind, a falling snowflake, or a soapy sphere escaping from a bubble bath. It’s a shame, because a story as emotionally devastating as this one, with such scope for drama and pathos, could have elicited some truly wonderful musical statements, and I feel that – perhaps – Simonsen was slightly held back by his creative partners in terms of how much to layer on the sentiment.
Once in a while something more meaty enters the score; the surging, oceanic string writing and virtuoso violin textures in pieces like “First Resurrection” and “Twisted Around the Truth” are bold and wondrous, expressing the possible intervention of something supernatural in Adaline’s life. Elsewhere, “Never Speak a Word of Her Fate” is the closest the score comes to having an action cue, combining strong string writing with a more prominent percussion section and choir in a manner that is sometimes reminiscent of Danny Elfman. The album concludes with an original song, “Start Again,” written by Simonsen in collaboration with fellow composer Nathan Johnson and vocalist Katie Chastain, and performed by the indie group Faux Fix featuring English singer Elena Tonra.
I like The Age of Adaline quite a bit. It’s a soothing, rewarding listen, full of gently beguiling textures and several moments of heightened emotion. I’m also very happy that, on this score, Rob Simonsen was given the opportunity to work with a larger orchestral ensemble and stretch his compositional muscles a little, after spending the last couple of years writing fun, but fairly innocuous light rock and pop scores for indie dramas. However, irrespective of how inoffensive and pleasant the score is, I still can’t help being more than a touch underwhelmed by the whole experience, like everyone was playing it safe and never quite fully embracing the potential for stunning music a story like this has. As I alluded earlier, it’s almost as if the music took on Adaline’s personality a little too much, mirroring her desire for anonymity and her need to shy away from strong emotional connections, resulting in a score which is pretty, but fleeting.
Buy the Age of Adaline soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Adaline Bowman (1:52)
- At Home (1:58)
- January 1st, 1908 (3:56)
- First Resurrection (2:25)
- No Scientific Explanation (1:11)
- Never Speak a Word of Her Fate (3:01)
- Ellis Brings Flowers (2:46)
- Sunken Ship (2:12)
- Another Death in the Life (2:28)
- Tired of Running (1:55)
- Adaline Apologizes (0:57)
- Constellations (2:10)
- William Recognizes Adaline (2:48)
- He Named the Comet Della (1:50)
- A Near Miss (2:55)
- The Scar (2:53)
- Twisted Around the Truth (3:28)
- No More Running (2:02)
- Second Resurrection (3:40)
- Coming Back to Life (1:31)
- Hospital Confessions (5:15)
- To a Future with an End (1:41)
- Start Again (written by Rob Simonsen, Nathan Johnson and Katie Chastain, performed by Faux Fix feat. Elena Tonra) (3:38)
Running Time: 58 minutes 19 seconds
Lakeshore Records (2015)
Music composed and conducted by Rob Simonsen. Orchestrations by Rob Simonsen, Neal Desby and Edward Trybek. Recorded and mixed by Satoshi Noguchi. Edited by Erich Stratmann. Album produced by Rob Simonsen.