The Age of Adaline is a surprisingly good movie, for those who accept its ludicrous premise, and buoyed by great performances from the radiant Blake Lively, touching Harrison Ford, and feisty Ellen Burstyn. The film could have been frothy or Nicholas Sparks weepy, but instead it turned out to be an enjoyable diversion.
On its surface, the film is an old-fashioned romance (with a great soundtrack helping define the eras) married to a time-defying foundation. The characters meet cute, encounter issues, split up and (spoiler alert) wind up together. It is the lush journey and surprising twists and turns of Adaline’s over 100 years that keep the audience interest, as well as Lively’s subtle, engaging performance.
The issue of Adaline’s age does not turn out to be a fish out of water story like Forever Young or Back to the Future, where the character suddenly finds himself in a different period. It is more like The Picture of Dorian Gray or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a literary journey through a life not lived in real time.
A freak car wreak-cum-lightning event, explained in a voiceover, causes Adaline to stop aging in her late 20s. To avoid being studied as a specimen, she changes her identity every decade, cutting off almost all ties, except to her child and bank.
Adaline has 100+ years of touching memories of living in the San Francisco area, so different features of the city trigger different flashbacks and music periods. Lively is seen in period attire and coiffure from the 1920s, World War II era, mid-60s and present time. Her looks and hair adapt easily, except in the modern times, where she seems to dress a little reserved, very proper and conservatively dressed. Adaline does not quite dress her age; she is a worldly, centenarian after all, even if she always looks 29.
It is clear that eternal youth has been a curse. She works to fill her days, but has nothing but time and a need to keep to herself. The character lives a life of loneliness, avoiding relationships since she must move on and change identities every decade or so to avoid questions about her lack of graying and wrinkling. The most heart-wrenching part is all the canines that have passed through her life as her only companion and then passed on. Her daughter is also there, but they can rarely get together because of the awkward age gap. In the present time, the daughter (Burstyn) is in her 80s and telling people she is Jenny’s grandmother.
Adaline, or Jenny which is her alias for the present day, meets a handsome, rich and charming man, Ellis (Michiel Huisman), who loves how worldly and knowledgeable Jenny is (imagine reading for 100 years). They flirt and eventually make love. Adaline’s daughter hopes her mother may actually stick with him and stop running, like she did with her other great love in 1960s San Fran (cue Jefferson Airplane).
Ellis takes her to meet his parents for a weekend. There she meets the man who was her great love from the 1960s – Ellis’ dad, played by Ford with a charm he has not shown for a while onscreen. Jenny insisted she is not Adaline. When the resemblance is challenged, she says Adaline was her mother. Ellis’s mother (Kathy Baker) realizes that she was her husband’s second choice and he has been pining for Adaline.
It is largely Lively who has to convince viewers to buy the premise with her demure smile and timeless poise. She has to maintain the distinction of an older person, while appearing young. In a scene with Burstyn, Lively acts motherly while Burstyn resorts to being the petulant child, illustrating how out of whack their looks are with their relationship.
Suspend belief with the time-stoppage premise and spend time with Lively and Co. The Age of Adaline is a sweet, touching diversion in theaters as a romantic alternative to car races and cartoon characters.
By Dyanne Weiss