A film review by Craig J. Koban April 30, 2015

THE AGE OF ADALINE jj
½

2015, PG-13, 110 mins.

 

Blake Lively as Adaline Bowman  /  Michiel Huisman as Ellis Jones  /  Ellen Burstyn as Flemming  /  Harrison Ford as William Jones  /  Amanda Crew as Kiki  /  Richard Harmon as Tony

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger  /  Written by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz

The new romantic fantasy THE AGE OF ADALINE is one of the most strangely handled films with a sensational premise that I’ve ever seen.  

It concerns a woman that – after a chance magical encounter – miraculously and permanently stays 28-years-old.  She is not immortal (she can be killed or hurt), but she doesn't age a day, nor can she perish due to natural causes.  In essence, she remains in her youthful twenties indefinitely and apart from the ravages of time.  Seriously, what a mind-blowingly good concept for a movie.   

Previous films have dealt with immortality, but perhaps on a grander and more fantastical scale.  THE AGE OF ADALINE is a more insular and intimate drama of what life would be like for a woman that’s incapable of aging for decades.  Director Lee Toland Krieger (whom previously made the delightful romcom CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER) has good instincts for keeping this film grounded and credible despite its lofty premise, and he does so by commanding some decent performances – and a strong one in particular from one Hollywood A-list veteran (more on him in a bit) – to give the film a low-key and unforced poignancy.  Unfortunately, THE AGE OF ADALINE made some categorical missteps that distracted me from underlining power of the material, like a rather peculiar voiceover narration track and an ending that's about as contrived and woefully convenient as I’ve seen.  All of the superlative performances and evocative, decades-spanning production design contained within here are done a disservice by the somewhat wonky and ill-conceived scripting.   

Adaline Bowman (a fetching and assured Blake Lively) looks good for a woman that's over 100-years-old.  That’s because she has looked 28-years-old since the turn of the last century.  She was the first baby born in the New Year in San Francisco in 1908 and in 1937 she was involved in a car accident that magically granted her the power of eternal youth via a strange combination of hypothermia, being drowned, and a well-placed lightning strike.  It’s never really fully explained how she is granted these extraordinary powers (even though the very talky exposition voiceover track tries to explain how it's possible, with varying degrees of success), but Adaline nevertheless becomes an ageless woman.  Leading an ordinary life becomes an impossibility for her, thus making the forming of any type of emotional attachment to other people outside of her own daughter (played as an elderly adult later by Ellen Burstyn) very difficult. 

 

 

Fearing that the government will find out of her existence and perform all sorts of experiments on her, Adaline decides to repeatedly go on the run and assumes multiple identities over the ensuing decades.  She manages to break her self-imposed vow of isolation in the 1960’s when she meets the young and handsome William (Anthony Ingruber), a student that became so attached to Adaline that he wanted to propose to her…until she left him forever without any explanation.  Flashforward to 2015 and the still young-looking Adaline finds herself fending off the advances of a congenial and rich suitor, Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), and after many attempts on his part to secure a date with her, she eventually acquiesces and begrudgingly begins a love affair with him.  Of course, he’s none the wiser about the fact that she’s resided on the planet for over a century and still looks like a runway model.  Just when things look happy and content for Adaline, a seemingly routine meeting between her and Ellis’ parents during one fateful weekend away threatens to change everything for her in rather unexpected ways. 

Blake Lively – a statuesque presence that lacks range – is reasonably adept at playing a woman that outwardly looks young, but inwardly carries decades of memories within her.  She subtly suggests a woman of refinement and wisdom with careful choices of words and a distinct manner of enunciation.  Her dignity and poise as a person remains unsullied despite the relative mental imprisonment of constantly being on the move throughout her long life.  THE AGE OF ADALINE does have its share of tender moments that highlight the titular character’s unique advantage over everyone else, such as a visit by her and Ellis to an old abandoned drive-in theatre she used to partake in when “younger” or – and a sly scene – her dominating her fairly old opponents in a spirited game of Trivia Pursuit based on her wellspring of knowledge she’s collected over the years.   

The film has some decidedly juicy and surprising twists and turns near its middle third (that the trailers did a mournful job of spoiling) that I won’t give away, other that to say that it heavily involves Elllis’ father, played by Harrison Ford.  The actor has given some very gruff and monosyllabic performances as of late that barely hinted at his past on-screen bravado and charm, but here he's wonderfully loose, natural, and easygoing.  He plays a man that’s about to celebrate his 40th wedding anniversary that – shall we say – has memories of an old fling rear up with the appearance of Adeline.  Ford perhaps has the trickiest performance to give here considering the staggering emotional depths that his character finds himself plunged into, but the crafty actor is so affecting and moving in his crucial supporting role that it helps THE AGE OF ADALINE considerably from completely capsizing over from the weight of its narrative foibles.  Ford has simply not been this refreshingly effective in a film role in an awfully long time. 

Alas, THE AGE OF ADALINE can’t seem to consistently deal with the staggering ambition of its underline story.  The idea of a woman living through most of the key decades of the 20th Century opens up an endless series of dramatic possibilities, not to mention many questions about where this woman stands of the key social, cultural and technological advancements/changes during that time.  Then there’s that pesky narration track, which comes and goes intermittently when it pleases, only to appear when it feels the film requires some nonsensical explanations (note to screenwriters of dramatic fantasies: some things are better left to the imagination).  There’s a late breaking exploration of how Adaline’s condition relates to the largely cosmos and universe around her, which really seems like it's desperately searching for some unnecessary solemnity to the material.  Perhaps, when all is said and done, THE AGE OF ADALINE doesn’t really know what it wants to say about Adaline’s mortality…or lack there of.   

The film eventually careens towards a real humdinger of a conclusion where all major parties come to a head and differences are easily ironed out for the purposes of a squeaky clean and ultra convenient happy ending, which ultimately comes off as unintentionally laughable.  There are individual moments sprinkled throughout THE AGE OF ADALINE that are handled with elegance and tact, not to mention that Ford nearly steals the film from everyone else around him and gives an award nomination turn in his small, but significant role that could have been all kinds of wrongly played by a less than capable actor.  There’s certainly a dramatic earnestness and confidence that permeates the handling of the story contained within THE AGE OF ADALINE, but its huge and limitless potential is squandered when the narrative succumbs to melodramatic silliness.

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