Movie Review: “The Age of Adaline”

Starring
Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Amanda Crew
Director
Lee Toland Krieger

There is no pleasure in putting down a movie that is in love with science, to the point where the screenplay invents a new law of molecular biology – one that won’t be discovered for another 20 years, no less – in order to justify the fantastical plot. Indeed, we’ll give “The Age of Adaline” credit for taking a left-field approach to the love story of the girl who won’t/can’t stop running, but in this case, the opposites don’t attract; the science talk is almost exclusively done via narration (THE MOVIE IS EXPLAINING ITSELF TO YOU BECAUSE YOU WON’T UNDERSTAND IT OTHERWISE), and it’s actually even more jarring when it’s inserted into the dialogue. However it’s delivered, it never gels with the love story. In fact, the love story never gels with the love story.

Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) was born in 1908. She met a man, fell in love, got married, had a daughter, and lost her husband in an accident. One night, while driving to visit her parents, she had an accident that sent her car plunging into a lake. The cold temperatures of the water stopped her heart, but she was revived when her vehicle was struck by lightning (again, the science behind this is decades away, they assure us), and as a result, she stops aging. This obviously makes it difficult for Adaline to forge long-lasting relationships (both friend and other), and avoid the suspicions of law enforcement. She eventually learns to guard her privacy to the present day (her daughter is now played by Ellen Burstyn), but handsome philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) refuses to leave her alone. Adaline, who now calls herself Jenny, wants to let him into her life, but decades of running is a hard habit to break. She agrees to spend the weekend with him as his parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, and it is there that Jenny, for the first time in ages, comes face-to-face with her past.

As awkward love triangles go, this is second only to the 1989 film “Chances Are,” where Robert Downey Jr. discovers that in a past life, he was his girlfriend’s father. (Gross.) Adaline has the new love, and runs into the old love, but there are no stakes; it’s obvious that she’s not going to leave new love for old love, so why does it happen? Quite frankly, they need to get her in a car by herself, so they can wrap things up with a tidy little bow. Is that a spoiler? Only if you’ve never seen a movie in your life.

Blake Lively is all sorts of stunning here, achieving Diane Lane/Michelle Pfeiffer levels of gorgeousness, yet Adaline is a specter, floating through the movie without leaving a footprint. There’s a logic to this, though: for her to maintain her life off the radar, she needs to be as invisible as someone who looks like Blake Lively can possibly be. The downside is that that decision offers her little in the way of emotional range, reducing the majority of her performance to polite blandness. Huisman doesn’t fare much better. His Ellis is impossibly earnest, the do-gooder silicon millionaire with a pure heart. They make a dashing couple, and a ridiculously smart one at that, but with neither of them seemingly capable of harboring a dark thought, they are also really boring. The darkest thought Adaline shares is when she chides Ellis for listening to bad jazz.

The most frustrating thing about “The Age of Adaline” is that there is a high-concept, thinking man’s romance at its core, but it is never fully explored. Are we really all connected? Are some of us chosen against our will to endure hardships that will benefit humanity in the future? That’s heady stuff for a romantic drama, and while it’s possible to get both to co-exist in a film, “The Age of Adaline” only flexes its smarts when it’s convenient.

  

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