After a car accident has miraculously left her stuck at age 29 for nearly eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived in solitary for most her life, moving from place to place and never allowing herself to get attached to anyone out of fear society won’t know what to make of her condition. But after meeting a charismatic philanthropist, Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), she struggles between keeping her secret and taking a chance at romance.
Having already sat though yet another Nicholas Sparks movie and Fifty Shades of Grey, I wasn’t exactly up for what looked like another sappy chick flick. Also, thinking back to Valentine’s Day weekend, 2014, the last romantic fantasy I sat through was Winter’s Tale, so – well, yeah, there’s that. Lucky for me, The Age of Adaline turns out to be better than expected. Granted, Hollywood’s set the bar extremely low lately, so it’s not like this film had to go the extra mile to come out looking better.
Coming from an indie film background, director Lee Toland Krieger could’ve turned this time-spanning premise into a bloated mess in some misguided attempt to over-prove himself in the mainstream market. But Krieger wisely keeps the why and how behind Adaline’s condition relatively easy to follow, even though the narration behind it does get a bit more talky than needed. Obviously, this is one of those “suspend your disbelief” premises, so your view of it all comes down to whether you buy it or not.
Is it a hammy premise? Yeah, but Blake Lively sells it.
Lively’s done very little up to this point to convince me of her talents (Green Lantern didn’t help). Sure, she’s got The Town, but that’s just one film and it’s a supporting role. Lively, however, is really good here and not just ’cause of her radiant onscreen appeal. This isn’t the first film to comment on how immortality is more of a curse than a blessing, but Lively effectively conveys the world wearied toll a long, long, loooong life of solitude has had on Adaline, earning our sympathy in the process. Also, her relationship with Ellen Burstyn as her daughter, one who looks old enough to be her grandma, could’ve come off as awkward or unintentionally funny, but it turns out to be rather heartfelt instead.
Nearly halfway into the film, however, Krieger can’t help but follow the same tired romance conventions (no romance film is complete without the slow-motion first meet where the two lock eyes for what seems like forever), and the film suffers a bit ’cause of it. Michiel Huisman (from Game of Thrones) is fine as Adaline’s love interest, and the connection between him and Lively has its moments. The downside is that his character isn’t that interesting, certainly not interesting enough to break Adaline’s decades-long streak of avoiding commitment. Huisman does what he can, but Ellis is really no more than a device for the title character.
Thankfully, the film picks itself back up once screen veterans Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker enter the picture as Huisman’s parents. As the only man Adaline ever allowed herself to fall for before letting him go, Ford delivers some of the best work he’s done in years (save his suitably scene-chewing performance as Branch Rickey in 42). Just the mere initial sight of Adaline conjures up pangs of lost love and Ford depicts that type of “the one who got away” regret just right, never overselling the melodrama. It’s a small role, mind you, but one that’s a reminder that unlike other action stars of his era, Ford’s Oscar nomination for Witness was in no way a fluke, and he possesses true acting talent when he’s not phoning it in for a paycheck.
The Age of Adaline doesn’t dig quite as deep into its immortality premise as other similar films have, and it succumbs to the usual romance genre cliches. But, while not perfect by any means, it’s still a beautiful looking, solidly directed romantic fable, benefiting mostly from the glowing presence of Blake Lively. Her performance carries the film in spite of its missteps, and shows she has more to offer as an actress than I previously thought.
I give The Age of Adaline a B- (★★★).