Film Review: ‘The Age of Adaline’

The Age of Adaline

Blake Lively's subtle, expressive performance sets the tone for this thoroughly ludicrous, thoroughly enjoyable romantic drama.

Daisy Miller meets Dorian Gray — or perhaps “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” meets Nicholas Sparks — in “The Age of Adaline,” a sensitively directed slab of romantic hokum that wrings an impressive amount of emotional conviction from a thoroughly ludicrous premise. A dab hand at invigorating conventional material with storytelling smarts and strong performances (“Celeste & Jesse Forever,” “The Vicious Kind”), helmer Lee Toland Krieger elicits a moving central turn from Blake Lively as a woman for whom eternal youth turns out to be a decidedly mixed blessing — one that plays out in ways both poignant and preposterous, sometimes simultaneously, over the course of her 100-plus years on Earth. Viewers seeking a pleasant alternative to the early-summer blockbuster barrage could do far worse than this genial high-concept romance, a likely modest theatrical performer for Lionsgate whose commercial stature should only improve with age.

The sort of time-skipping, tear-milking supernatural romance that would seem to have been adapted from some indifferent piece of three-hankie airport fiction, “The Age of Adaline” was in fact written for the screen by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz, who are shrewd enough to introduce their narrative hook early in the game while still retaining a sly sense of mystery. When we first meet Adaline Bowman (Lively), she’s making her way across present-day San Francisco, carefully procuring a fake driver’s license that identifies her as a 29-year-old named Jennifer Larson. Sweet but guarded, and much sharper and more observant than she appears initially, this woman could be a stealth superhero or an undercover CIA operative, for all we know; certainly neither possibility is ruled out by Lively’s withholding yet strangely compelling reserve.

But as we see her rifle through her possessions (among them an antique typewriter and a collection of sepia-toned photographs), or watch a vintage early-20th-century newsreel, the character’s backstory swiftly comes into focus through a series of flashbacks. Born in 1908, Adaline was an ordinary if remarkably beautiful woman of her era who married a handsome young engineer and gave birth to a daughter, Flemming. But not long after her husband’s untimely death, a grief-stricken Adaline crashed her car into a freezing cold river on an uncharacteristically snowy California night — only to be rescued by a stray bolt of lightning that not only jumpstarted her heart, but also permanently stopped her aging process, rendering her “immune to the ravages of time.”

Those words are spoken by a stately, slightly unctuous narrator (voiced by Hugh Ross), who also notes that the precise thermonuclear law in question will not be discovered until the year 2035, injecting a welcome dose of humor into the proceedings: Clearly, scientific plausibility, let alone accuracy, could not be more beside the point here. Indeed, by acknowledging the silliness of the premise upfront, Krieger grants himself license to dramatize the fallout with a surprising degree of emotional logic, keeping us at Adaline’s side as she realizes that her condition — which begins to arouse suspicion around the time of her 45th birthday — has effectively condemned her to a life of transience and solitude. Unable to share the truth with anyone except Flemming, who soon visibly surpasses her in age (she’s soon played by a typically fine Ellen Burstyn), Adaline moves around and switches identities often, spending most of her private eternity reading and soaking up new languages.

Aware that she and her lover will never grow old together, Adaline largely steers clear of romantic relationships — that is, until a fateful New Year’s Eve party where she meets the dashing Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), who pursues her with such ardent sincerity that she can’t help but reciprocate. No sooner does she choose to pursue her feelings, however, than the film drops the sort of brazen, startling twist that immediately causes her to doubt her decision, even as it prompts the viewer to question the peculiarly sadistic machinations of fate that have brought Adaline to this particular point. Yet despite or perhaps because of this blatant contrivance, which might have stopped a less committed movie dead in its tracks, “The Age of Adaline” somehow becomes an even more weirdly captivating experience, capturing a sort of slow-dawning collective epiphany as all involved struggle to make sense of a truly impossible situation.

Those characters include Ellis’ mother (Kathy Baker) and father (Harrison Ford), who enter the picture relatively late in the game yet add a crucial measure of dramatic heft; Ford, in particular, does some of his finest, most restrained yet passionate acting in quite some time, taking advantage of just a few sharply written scenes to distill the emotional essence of an old man who has known great joy as well as deep regret. Ellis’ father, as it happens, is an astronomer by trade — a fitting enough detail for a movie that, in its most Sparksian moments, frequently directs our gaze heavenward, straining a bit too insistently to lend a cosmic dimension to what we’re seeing. That’s particularly true of the final voiceover, which, together with some rather ill-advised comet imagery and a predictably contrived climax, brings this lovely, gently haunting movie to a more bluntly literal-minded close than it deserves.

Ultimately, “The Age of Adaline” offers a soothing reminder that one of life’s chief frustrations — we never have as much time as we would like — might in fact be one of its truest mercies. The film also serves as a corrective to prevailing standards of beauty, particularly in an industry where actresses are encouraged to smooth away every line and wrinkle. Most of all, though, it’s a vehicle for Lively’s expressive yet underplayed performance, the sort of quietly commanding star turn that makes you wonder why this performer (still best known for “Gossip Girl”) hasn’t received more bigscreen opportunities over the past decade. At her subtlest, Lively sensitizes us to her character’s thoughts as she processes the incomprehension of those around her, nimbly working out the best way to answer everyone’s questions without revealing what’s really going on. For all the deception, however, the truth of Adaline’s feelings is never hidden from the viewer, least of all in one crucial scene where she gazes into a mirror and responds to what she sees with both sorrow and elation.

Brief, judicious flashbacks to the earlier chapters of Adaline’s life are rendered with unfussy professionalism, with Claude Pare’s production design and Angus Strathie’s costumes offering precise, effective visual markers for different eras; for the most part, the movie unfolds resolutely in the present day and the present tense. Still, there’s a dark cast and a vivid cinematic texture to David Lanzenberg’s digital lensing (on the Red camera) that conveys a certain timeless quality, extended almost to a fault by Rob Simonson’s omnipresent score.

Film Review: 'The Age of Adaline'

Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, April 20, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 112 MIN.

Production

A Lionsgate release presented with SKE Films and Lakeshore Entertainment. Produced by Sidney Kimmel, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi. Executive producers, Andre Lamal, Eric Reid, David Kern, Richard Wright, Jim Tauber, Bruce Toll, Steve Golin, Alix Madigan. Co-producer, Brad Van Arragon.

Crew

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger. Screenplay, J. Mills Goodloe, Salvador Paskowitz; story, Goodloe, Paskowitz. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), David Lanzenberg; editor, Melissa Kent; music, Rob Simonson; music supervisors, Brian McNelis, Eric Craig; production designer, Claude Pare; art director, Martina Javorova; set decorator, Shannon Gottlieb; set designer, Megan Poss; costume designer, Angus Strathie; sound (Dolby Atmos/Dolby Digital), Mark Noda; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Christopher S. Aud; re-recording mixers, Michael Babcock, Aud; visual effects supervisor, James McQuaide; visual effects, Luma Pictures, Cutting Edge; stunt coordinator, Owen Walstrom; associate producer, Jackie Shenoo; assistant director, Paul Barry; casting, Tricia Wood, Deborah Aquila.

With

Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Hugh Ross. (English, Portuguese dialogue)

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  1. Jjoe Smith says:

    Obviously CHANG wouldn’t recognize a good movie if it bit him in the ass.
    Maybe more movies should touch our emotions and not our lack of immagination. There are so few good clean non violent non sexual movies out there .

  2. TIM says:

    Lively’s stunning beauty makes the movie for me. How could any man not fall in love with her.

  3. Odion Orumen says:

    How come Adaline’s daughter, Fleming is older than William? This is a great flaw that mars even the credibility of the storyline

    • Ted says:

      The movies states that Fleming was born in 1932. William met Adaline in the 1960s when he was 26. So, he was born anywhere from 2 to 10 years AFTER Fleming

  4. Rob Tregs says:

    Are there any critics left who can writ a f—in review without telling the entire plot? Twists and everything? Jesus, what lazy reporting. If any these clowns knew about the craft of filmmaking they could discuss performances, music (which is always ignored in reviews even though it guides the movie and can make or break it-“Suckario” for example was ruined by a pretentious score and self- indulgent unnecessary long shots). I never read any of these hacks’ reviews until I’ve seen the movie. Lazy- any 6th grader could write s complete synopsis.

  5. John Hinn says:

    This movie will touch a note of of class with anyone that remembers that sophisticated woman that Lively brings across probably from her own relationship with such a woman, as does Harrison Ford as he shows us all what character is and superbly recounts what love truly is as his character recounts passion of two men and love as it may be experienced for others who remember….wonderful… Chang.. where you went wrong in your review, can’t be your fault, only evidence of your very great loss. Lively brings to her character, what Change has never experienced and cannot understand… I suggest he go meet Lively’s grandparents as something tells me they are very special..

  6. sellbd2 says:

    The age of adaline full movie online>>> http://goo.gl/ENV4Nk

  7. Daniel says:

    Blake Lively proves that she’s a fashion icon but who else looked great this week? http://goo.gl/Ofp6t6

  8. GKN says:

    Sounds more like “The Highlander” than Dorian Grey, thematically, but without the sword-fighting.

  9. Joe Posner says:

    It’s nice to know that Lively survived the disaster that was the “Green Lantern”movie to go on to make better films. It’s been taking Ryan Reynolds a few years to bounce back as well.

  10. Jeff Bates says:

    Portrait of Dorian Grey was written by Oscar Wilde…

  11. Lara says:

    Lively is an extremely underrated actress imo.She was terrific in The Town and on the strength of that performance alone deserved far better roles than the ones she was offered.

  12. Dorian Grey is based on an Edgar Allen Poe short story so this sub-genre has been around for a very long time. And like all ideas worth shaking off the cobwebs, the film has an unwelcome title but good intentions.

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