Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
The Age of Adaline fits almost every romantic trope imaginable, albeit under the guise of a timeless story not bound by the confines of time. If that sounds cheesy or hackneyed, it’s because the film is just as much so, but it wears those derivatives on its sleeve without regret. There’s a sense of being fundamentally assured throughout director Lee Toland Krieger’s film, with confident, surprisingly moving performances from Blake Lively and Harrison Ford. Logic isn’t important when it comes to laying out the film’s central premise, regarding a woman that has failed to age for the past eight decades, but once we get past that far-fetched conceit, the film works on surprising dramatic heft. She’s a woman that refuses to love when it almost always costs her; doesn’t that sound familiar? The script features the usual clichéd central romance and its blossoming and downfall, but it works here, particularly as the character’s maturity emerges through her actions. While conventional in practically every sense, Adaline knows how to weave an impactful story.
The story follows Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), a normal baby born in the early 1900s in San Francisco, that suddenly found her life changed after a horrible auto accident. It led to her car falling into a lake, being struck by lightning, and causing her life to begin again with her cells ceasing to age after that moment. As the narrator discusses, it’s a genetic trait that becomes understood in the year 2035, so of course they don’t know why it’s happening now! Adaline still attempts to live her life normally, giving birth to a daughter, Flemming (played in present day by Ellen Burstyn), while her husband unfortunately passes away during a construction accident on the Golden Gate Bridge. Adaline vows to never fall into a relationship again, nor will she ever tell her secret to anyone but her daughter, causing her to run around for most of her life, claiming different identities and avoiding the grasps of the FBI, amongst others, who believe she is a unique case. Jump to present day and she meets Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a persistent man that wants to understand Adaline despite her having no interest. Eventually, feelings develop and Adaline meets William (Harrison Ford), Ellis’s father, who seems to know that something is peculiar about Adaline.
Upon Ford’s introduction, the film establishes narrative purpose and emotional power. Before that moment, much of the film is doled out as exposition from the omniscient narrator or through conventional pieces of dialogue where men hit on Adaline and she refuses any advances. It’s a mostly one-dimensional romance until William emerges; then, the film absolutely thrives. There are delicate, impassioned moments with Ford that stands as his finest acting in the past two decades; considering the films he has starred in, that may not sound like much, but it’s a tremendously affecting performance. This is also the best work Lively has done on the big screen, making a character that could feel old-fashioned and archaic feel raw and (pardon the pun) alive. The Age of Adaline relies too heavily on implausibility and character instability to make a complete effect, with too many “big” romantic moments overpowering the delicate second act that makes the film a highly gripping romance. Nonetheless, the above performances and Huisman’s effective turn make the film engaging past its inherent predictability.
Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)