THE AGE OF ADALINE
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Cast: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew, Lynda Boyd, the voice of Hugh Ross
MPAA Rating: (for a suggestive comment)
Running Time: 1:50
Release Date: 4/24/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | April 23, 2015
It doesn't matter if the conceit of The Age of Adaline isn't believable. After all, the material is presented as a sort of modern-day fairy tale, complete with a narrator who is so obliging in providing information—giving equal weight to details of the vital, trivial, and enigmatic varieties—that he ceases to be helpful fairly early into the movie. Everything about the movie, from its lush cinematography to its costumes and design to its attractive cast, is glamorous, which only furthers our understanding that we're not supposed to take the central idea at face value.
The movie is set in the real world, but it's a world where strange, inexplicable things can and do happen. The question is what we take from this world and the story within it.
The gist of the concept is that a woman in her late 20s during the 1930s becomes ageless after her car skids on a snowy road in California, sending driver and vehicle into a freezing lake. Her heart stops, and soon after, lightning strikes the car, sending a surge of electricity through the woman's body. She is revived and, from that moment on, never ages a day.
There's a scientific principle behind this miracle, the narrator (voice of Hugh Ross) informs us, but it won't be discovered until the year 2035. That's a small but very clever move on the part of screenwriters J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz. It assuages any questions we might have about the nature of Adaline Bowman's (Blake Lively) condition, but it also re-focuses us on the nature of Adaline herself, who must live with what is either a gift or a curse.
Her history is told primarily through flashbacks that play throughout the movie's central narrative, which concerns Adaline's romance with a self-made multi-millionaire. We learn of her marriage to an engineer involved with the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. It ends in tragedy.
We learn of her relationship with her daughter, which is also tragic, since the daughter (Ellen Burstyn) is now in her 80s and considering a move to a retirement home. Adaline missed most of her daughter's life, on account of having to move and change her identity every 10 years, lest anyone start to wonder why she looks as young as the day they met.
It happens at one point, leading the FBI to become involved. They want to run some tests on her, and she escapes just before the whole thing likely turns tragic. There is, though, a tragic ending to another of her romantic entanglements, in which she leaves a promising suitor waiting on a park bench with a ring box in his hand.
Hers is a sad history, filled with over a century's worth of memories of and experiences in the great, tumultuous record of the 20th and 21st centuries. At least we assume that's the case, because the movie reduces Adaline's story to whether or not she'll consider a serious relationship with Ellis (Michiel Huisman), the scruffily handsome millionaire who has dedicated himself to philanthropy and, after he sees Adaline for the first time, some minor stalking.
Watching the movie quickly turns into the unfortunate trial of imagining the multitude of ways Adaline's story could be told. We think of the sights she may have seen (Any time she almost slips about seeing something from the past that a 29-year-old woman couldn't have seen, she throws in an "I imagine" after a short pause) and the people she may have met (She hints that Bing Crosby once hit on her at a New Year's Eve party). We think of a narrative that doesn't relegate the expanse of her experiences to a handful of inconsequential memories.
We consider all of these things because the movie's devotion to her current romantic predicament feels like such a wasted opportunity. It doesn't help that neither Adaline nor Ellis is too interesting. Adaline remains too locked in to the movie's unfulfilled central idea to be much of a character beyond it, and Ellis' notions of courting are off-putting, to say the least. The movie does throw in a promising conflict with the introduction of Ellis' father William (Harrison Ford), who recognizes Adaline as the great Woman Who Got Away of his past. That doesn't go anywhere, though, only reinforcing the question of whether or not Adaline and Ellis will stay together (It also leaves a transparently awkward situation unspoken).
In the end, we imagine a narrative of Adaline's life that allows us to understand her crisis in a more tangible, sympathetic way. As presented in The Age of Adaline, it's just a neat conceit that doesn't have much to say, aside from generic melodramatic flourishes and sappily romantic hooey.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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