Giving credit where it’s due, the premise of The Age of Adaline may be crazy, but its explanation is rather smart: what keeps Adaline Bowman as an unaging 29-year-old for the better part of a century isn’t chalked up to some magical force, but rather a scientific discovery – just one that the narrator of the film explains won’t be discovered until 2035. Through a series of explanations by the narrator, The Age of Adaline is able to establish its premise in a matter-of-fact manner; audiences who can buy into it are then rewarded with a beautifully-shot and occasionally emotional feature.
After getting married, giving birth, and being widowed in relatively short order before the incident that happens when she’s 29, Adaline (Blake Lively) lives her life through the 1930s and ’40s under a slowly growing amount of scrutiny, linked all too briefly to McCarthyism, that culminates in her decision to go into hiding, changing her identity and location every decade. It means leaving her grown daughter (Cate Richardson in flashbacks, Ellen Burstyn in present-day), a string of lovers, and a longer string of dogs. It also means seeing Adaline in a wide range of chic fashion and hairstyles. What could be a thankless role in the hands of another actress, though, is given a subtle strength through Lively’s poised performance. Lively is fully believable as an older soul attempting to fit in as a younger one.
The film stumbles a bit in the present day when Adaline is shaken from her decades of complacency by Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a wealthy humanitarian who’s enraptured by Adaline and soon falls for her. Prompted by her daughter’s urging, Adaline tentatively begins to accept Ellis’ advances. The initial pursuit of Adaline is among the harder parts of the film to accept, mainly because of Adaline’s understandably withholding nature.
The love story, though, gains momentum with the introduction of Ellis’ parents, Connie (Kathy Baker) and William (Harrison Ford). William, in particular, can’t get over the fact that Adaline, currently going by the name “Jenny,” bears a striking resemblance to a woman from his past named…you guessed it, Adaline, who disappeared just as he was about to propose to her. Ford gives a remarkable performance as a man trying to sort out his reawakened memories with the person he’s meeting, and watching William struggle brings out a sense of tension from Adaline that Ellis doesn’t. The film plays the situation earnestly (and without getting into the implications of Adaline being involved physically with father and son), and it largely works. As melodramatic as the content may be, the film plays it straight, and it largely works. Credit should not only be given to the actors, namely Lively and Ford, but to the work of director Lee Toland Krieger and cinematographer David Lazenberg, both of whom did wonders working with Celeste and Jesse Forever a few years ago.
The Age of Adaline feels like a film that shouldn’t work. It’s not a timely film, nor does it attempt to be one. It’s earnest, almost painfully so. And it goes for a happy ending that’s unbelievably contrived, but also manages to work perfectly. It’s not exactly the romantic must-see it may want to be, but it’s an intriguing view all the same.