In a Hollywood where lifeless and limp Nicholas Sparks stories are brought to life on the big screen on nearly an annual basis, it is almost jarring to experience an old-fashioned romance done well.
The Age of Adaline is not a perfect film, at times too timid for its own good and occasionally falling victim to its own gimmicky devices, but is a beautiful and enchanting film that somehow transcends its flaws and becomes a surprisingly moving and fascinating motion picture that left me contemplating its words and images long after I'd left the theater.
The film stars Blake Lively as Adaline Bowman, a lovely young woman living an idyllic life in 1935 until a tragic accident, weaving together hypothermia and a lightning strike, leaves her a 29-year-old woman whose aging process stops completely.
It is. The beauty of The Age of Adaline is that director Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste and Jesse Forever) takes it all so very seriously and somehow creates a sense of magical realism out of a central concept that seems so incredibly absurd. While many who see The Age of Adaline are likely to think of Groundhog Day or Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I must confess that I found myself thinking more about E.T.
As Adaline begins to figure out the truth of what has happened to her, a terrifying visit from F.B.I. agents convinces her that she can't tell anyone about her condition. She begins living life under assumed identities, changing every ten years and refusing everything from allowing photographs to be taken to forming anything resembling a real human relationship. For Adaline, her only real connections are with her daughter, who will eventually look old enough to be her grandmother and be played by the stellar Ellen Burstyn, and a series of spaniels.
Adaline has kept her secret. Well, except for that one time a long time ago. However, it won't likely come as a surprise to anyone that another man will enter her life, Ellis (Michiel Huisman, Game of Thrones and Orphan Black), a San Francisco philanthropist who seems to find her mysteriousness both endearing and a challenge.
There will be many who won't resonate with the rather muted emotions of The Age of Adaline's early journey, emotions that aren't so much brought to life but allowed to exist just on the surface of Lively's performance. Yet, it felt perfect for a woman whose entire is based upon disconnection, denial, and self-deprivation. It is not compelling viewing, yet it is authentic in an uncomfortable way. The joy of Lively's performance is that she creates a sympathetic and appealing character out of Adaline despite the fact that we don't really begin to get to know her until the film's midway point. Lively's performance is refreshingly nuanced, neither bursting with histrionics nor drowning in caricature. As the film progresses, Lively's performance becomes more lively despite a script from J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz that occasionally betrays her and doesn't go nearly as far as it could have gone.
Huisman makes for a good romantic lead opposite Lively, projecting a sort of quiet romanticism that blends well with Lively's subdued presence. Ellen Burstyn takes a nearly impossible role, playing the daughter of Blake Lively, and brings it to life with warmth and affection. However, The Age of Adaline really comes to life when Harrison Ford shows up on the screen. Playing a figure from Adaline's past, Ford gives what is unquestionably one of his most satisfying and heartfelt performances with a level of vulnerability we've really not seen from Ford and an almost aching honesty that gives the film's final half an emotional resonance and depth that makes how everything unfolds incredibly touching despite its fits of absurdity and simplicity.
David Lanzenberg's lensing helps give the film its aura of fantasy and reality, while Claude Pare's production design is lush and beautiful. The film is narrated by Hugh Ross, who fulfilled the same role in 2005's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The narration is a strange little beast, somewhat distracting at times and in a sense condescending as one of its primary functions is to explain the "scientific" foundation of all that happens and other aspects of Adaline's life.
The Age of Adaline may have certain similarities to a Groundhog Day type film, yet its heart and soul are reminiscent of a certain young alien caught living an uncertain life in an uncertain place while searching for connection and hope along the way. There is a hopefulness to The Age of Adaline, a belief that it is our challenges, our flaws, and our mortality that brings us together as lovers and human beings.
Perhaps then, it is true, that while we are destined to age it is love that is truly ageless.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic