D: Lee Toland Krieger / 107m
Cast: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew, Linda Boyd, Hugh Ross, Anthony Ingruber
On New Year’s Eve 2014, Jennifer Larson (Lively) purchases a set of fake I.D.’s before heading off to work at a library’s archive office. There she’s given a collection of old newsreels that need to be digitised. She begins viewing them, and as the footage unfolds, Jennifer remembers her life, one that began on New Year’s Day 1908 when she was born Adaline Bowman. She remembers getting married and having a child, and then her husband dying. And she remembers the fateful trip that saw her spin off the road during a freak snowstorm and plunge into a freezing river – where she died – and the lightning strike that struck her and revived her, causing her to remain twenty-nine from that day onward.
That night she attends a New Year’s Eve party, where she attracts the attention of a handsome man called Ellis (Huisman), who shares an elevator ride with her; she rebuffs his advances. But she is surprised to find him turn off at her office the next day in the guise of a generous benefactor. He asks her out on a date, which she refuses. In retaliation Ellis tells her he’ll withdraw his donation if she doesn’t. This time she agrees and he manages to convince her to see him again; when she does she stays over at his apartment. Afterwards, and despite Ellis’s best intentions, she avoids his calls and is cold to him when they meet in the street.
Eventually, Jennifer relents and agrees to see him again. When they do he asks her to come with him for the weekend to help celebrate his parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary. When they arrive, Ellis’s father, William (Ford) is shocked by her resemblance to a woman he met in England in the Sixties, a woman he knew as Adaline Bowman. Jennifer pretends that Adaline was her mother. William is unable to get over how much she looks like the woman he knew, but everyone else accepts the coincidence. The next day, Jennifer and William are talking when he notices a scar on her left hand that matches one Adaline had, and which was caused while they were hiking together. He confronts her, but even though he does his best to reassure her, she leaves as quickly as she can. A lifetime of hiding her real identity has left Adaline constantly fearful of exposure, and so she aims to disappear yet again, using the fake I.D.’s she’s recently purchased. But as she heads back to her home, and with Ellis chasing after her, another freak bout of snow starts to fall…
At the New Year’s Eve party, a young man tries out an old pick-up line on Adaline. When he realises she’s heard it before, she confirms it by saying “Just once, from a Bing Crosby … type.” It’s one of those offhand, slightly clever moments you’d expect from a movie that features a character who’s been around for over a century, but thankfully it’s the only example the movie trots out, settling instead for Adaline being incredibly knowledgeable about world events (and picking up the odd extra language). It’s a restrained approach to material that could have focused more on past events than the modern day romance that rightly takes centre stage.
With Adaline’s past consigned to occasional, yet relevant, flashbacks, and with a narrator (Ross) to act as our guide at equally relevant moments, The Age of Adaline is a romantic drama that grounds its fantasy elements in the everyday and the banal: Adaline keeps a succession of King Charles Spaniels; she works in a library; she worries about her daughter, Flemming (Burstyn), now an old woman considering moving into a retirement community. It’s the attempts Adaline makes to live a normal, ordinary life that makes the movie so easy to believe in, and with Lively’s wonderful performance to back it all up, her predicament so credible.
Which makes the central romance all the more disappointing, as Huisman’s so-good-he-can’t-be-real Ellis is such a perfect partner that aside from Adaline’s initial reservations about seeing him, there’s no drama involved at all. It takes Adaline’s past coming back to haunt her to provide any real drama and that doesn’t arrive until over an hour has passed. Until then it’s all build up, and a fairly pedestrian, nearly superficial build up at that. Thank goodness for Lively, who elevates the material by emphasising the tragedy of Adaline’s life, often just by looking pensive and lonely. There’s a depth of feeling in Lively’s eyes during these moments that helps immensely, and leaves Huisman’s easy smile and carefree physicality looking as if the actor is barely trying. It’s Lively’s movie from start to finish, and the actress takes every opportunity to stamp her authority on the role.
She’s matched by Ford who turns in his best performance in years, the moments when William is remembering Adaline and the time they spent together, showing the character’s vulnerability and emotional honesty in a way that is entirely realistic. The scene where William confronts Adaline is a small master class in screen acting. In support, Burstyn does well as Adaline’s daughter but is required to be too wise on too many occasions for comfort, and Baker is left with the unenviable task of making William’s wife (also Kathy) more than an add-on.
But while the supporting characters pale against the attention given to Adaline, the script by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz, is never less than absorbing, and keeps the viewer interested, even during those repetitive early scenes where Adaline keeps rejecting Ellis over and over. It scores highly when examining themes of love and loss and sacrifice, and maintains an impassioned tone throughout. Krieger directs with a confidence and a firm control of the material that benefits the more fantastical elements, and evokes a strong sense of time and place in the flashback scenes. He’s aided by often evocative cinematography by David Lanzenberg, laudable costume designs for Adaline through the decades by Angus Strathie, and fluid, assured editing by Melissa Kent. All go together to make the movie a rich, rewarding experience, and one of the finest romantic dramas of recent years.
Rating: 8/10 – an intriguing premise given a stronger outing than expected, The Age of Adaline is a worthy throwback to the “women’s pictures” of the Thirties and Forties but with an appropriately modern sheen; with a superb performance from Lively, this is a movie that, thankfully, has more to it than meets the eye.