'The Age of Adaline'
‘The Age of Adaline’ is a thoroughly ludicrous fantasy romance that should be impossible to take seriously. Yet the filmmakers somehow commit to the premise with enough full-hearted sincerity to make it strangely palatable. It’s no masterpiece, but for those in the mood for a weepy ode to impossible love, it’ll scratch an itch.
Blake Lively stars as a woman born in the early 20th Century who was part of a mysterious car accident involving lightning that cursed/blessed her to remain 29 forever. She has a daughter and attempts to live her life until the 1930s to ’40s(ish), when too many questions start getting raised about her appearance, and mysterious men in suits and hats start following her around. From there, she lives a transient life, flittering around from one life and love to the next until she ends up in current day San Francisco.
Her daughter is now elderly (Ellen Burstyn) and pretends to be her grandmother. She desperately wants her ageless mother to find love, but Adaline just can’t let that happen. That is, until she meets hunky millionaire, historian and humanitarian Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) at a New Year’s Eve party. Jones pursues her relentlessly because he finds her fascinating (polite movie term for “beautiful”), and since he’s a dreamboat, Adaline eventually falls for him. Things get complicated when Jones brings his new lady home to meet his family, and poppa (Harrison Ford) can’t get over how much Adaline looks exactly like a woman he loved and lost in his 20s. Do you think? No, it’s impossible. Oh no, wait, she’s ageless. Hmmm… creepy.
The film works due to how committed director Lee Toland Krieger (who made the heartbreakingly hilarious and insightful ‘Celeste & Jesse Forever’) is to his ridiculous central premise. He plays everything straight and without a hint of irony, yet gives every image a certain fairy tale gloss. The world is heightened just enough to avoid audiences crying “bullshit” and also grounded enough for actual human emotions to enter the picture. In particular, the sequence when Ford recognizes Lively from his youth is filled with all sorts of unsettling intergenerational love implications that Krieger doesn’t shy away from in the slightest. He has crafted a romantic fable with a little stank on it, and that’s more than enough to elevate this flick from the norm in the genre. It’s a very pretty movie with a gentle sprinkling of ugly emotions to offer complexity that would never make it into a Nicholas Sparks film. That makes the inevitable “Love Conquers All” finale feel earned.
Krieger also has a knack for coaxing strong work out of actors. Lively has the most difficult role, requiring her to be a little wooden and distant by design as well as being saddled with an old-timey dialect that doesn’t tickle contemporary ears like it once did. At times, she can feel a little too arch and mannered, but that’s never a major issue since it fits her character. The important thing is that she nails the pain, beauty and unanswerable enigma of the character with ease. Huisman is essentially stuck with a dreamboat love interest role that has little room for anything resembling an actual human, but he runs with it and lets his natural charisma slip through just enough to be relatable.
The best acting in the film comes from Burstyn and Ford. Burstyn is always a grounding force in any movie, even when she has far too little screen time. Ford, on the other hand, appears to be more engaged as a performer than he has in years. To be fair, the role allows him to dive into dark and perverse territory that he rarely gets to indulge in, and clearly the man relished the opportunity. It’s a good sign given that he’s about to return to one of his most iconic roles and it would be nice if he didn’t phone that one in.
‘The Age of Adaline’ is far from a perfect movie. The mixture of romantic melodrama and unexplained fantasy will put many off before they even give it at chance. Make no mistake, this is a very specific genre picture for a very specific audience (i.e. those who have no interest in ‘Furious 7’ or ‘The Avengers 2’). Yet within those rigidly cornball confines, Lee Toland Krieger has created something that actually works and even serves up a few surprises. The film is one of the most watchable romantic weepies to come along and support the Kleenex industry for quite some time.