The Age of Adaline
Starring Blake Lively, Harrison Ford
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Rating 3 / 5
I wanted to love this movie about a woman in a solitude she didn’t create, pining for real life like others have and the love others have. It seemed such a lovely, swoony way to dream dreams and catch a fashion parade spanning 1905 – present day. The beauteous Blake Lively is Adaline Bowman whose life is only touching love and having to detach over and over in inescapable romantic chaos. Because why? Because she was in a car crash and as a noisy narrator tells us, and a chemical reaction with the cosmos rendered her ageless.
It sounded yummy.
But no. It is instead a rather heavy glutinous confection and no fun, tear-soaked weighed down by its blustery importance and by all those feelings with nary a moment of comic relief from its mopey self. Layers of repeated behaviours, frustration and fully constructed artifice collide as a hybrid sci-fi/love story/period piece. It’s extremely demanding.
Melodrama writ large and forced emotion, pretty regret and fear are Adaline’s lot in life. She believes her agelessness must remain secret, because if it got out, well, that’s bad. She changes identifies and homes every decade for fear of discovery. She can’t stay put in one place without drawing attention, her life can’t be any bigger than a suitcase.
If her secret came out – that she was decades old and immortal, and looks perpetually 21 – then she would become a circus freak, a specimen for the government to probe and fix. She continues running decades after the people investigating her have died. She has had to leave everything behind, with the sole exception of her daughter (Ellen Burstyn) whom she will outlive. Her sole purpose is escape.
It’s not all that interesting. It is a great idea but it’s been through the Hollywood one size fits all sanitizer, keen to please everyone.
But the most egregious flaw in the film is her present day romance with Ellis (Michiel Huisman). It just doesn’t make sense that a woman as careful and experienced as Adaline would fall for a guy she meets in an elevator at a New Year’s party in San Francisco and who stalks her.
Ellis pursues her with an uncomfortable vigour. He stops her cab from leaving by grabbing the door, which is scary if you ask me, finds her address and shows up, and won’t take no for an answer and she said it lots of times. Adaline knows people – she’s watched them since 1905. So why would she be seduced by this person?
Fast forward Adaline and Ellis head to his parents’ home for their 40th wedding anniversary. Ellis’ father (Harrison Ford) nearly has a stroke when he meets her because they were in love four decades ago. She says Adaline was her mother but it keeps tugging at him and this is where things sort of pick up some steam.
The narration that explains the chemical reactions that made her ageless in a car crash is odd, verging on laughable. It cites scientific proofs for her condition and sets us up for the story in excruciating detail. We don’t need a chemical equation or an earnest scientific voice telling us what’s what.
The wardrobe is interesting. No matter how modern the time is, Adaline maintains something of her past in what she wears, sterling silver earrings from the sixties, side buttoned pants from the WWII era and a hairdo from the seventies. In present day scenes at Ellis’ family home, Adaline’s train case is straight out of the forties.
This attention to detail is peachy keen as a distraction from the unending Sturm und Drang of sentiment coming at us. If only the film hadn’t taken itself so seriously and given the story and the characters some breathing room!
The thing Age of Adaline does best is stir sleeping memories. It has the powerful tang of nostalgia, memory for things we knew or didn’t know. It reminds us that time is precious and it’s never too late to make a good life. But why does that mean crying for two hours?