Can a woman, gifted with the miracle of immortality and eternal youth, ever truly find love with a mortal? That may sound like the Arwen/Aragorn storyline from The Lord of the Rings but it’s also the central question at the heart of The Age of Adaline, an elegant but ultimately passionless star vehicle for the stunning Blake Lively, playing a woman who will never need to waste her money on Oil of Olay.
“It’s the little details that will trip you up”, Adaline Bowman tells a young forger as he crafts her a fake ID. Ironically, it’s the little details about The Age of Adaline that don’t completely add up, and it’s a shame because Lively has never been this good in all of her career. Adaline is a woman who, just shy of her 30th birthday, was in a completely freakish car accident that caused her to stop aging. It’s like something out of a Marvel Comic, really, and the constantly intrusive, highly technical narrator goes to painstaking detail to make sure we understand every bit of what happened to her. Any sense of mystery or magic destroyed by a hail of boring voice-over, we are taken through Adaline’s life of hiding in plain sight.
Like television vampires Adaline moves around from place to place, staying just long enough that people won’t get suspicious. For decades she goes on like this, switching identities and mostly steering clear of personal relationships. After a close encounter with the government, Adaline goes deeper into hiding, only keeping in touch with her daughter (Ellen Burstyn), who unfortunately did not gain any of mommy’s powers. But poor Adaline has given up on the idea of love, fearing it would be too dangerous and too painful to lose someone she loves.
There’s a grand, decades-spanning fairy tale waiting to be told, and the film certainly looks gorgeous, all elegant colors and soft tones adding to the dramatic sweep. But the story itself is hardly epic and certainly isn’t romantic, which makes us focus on how ludicrous the whole thing is. Adaline is swept off her feet by Ellis (Michael Huisman), a random guy whose most notable attributes are his beard and his stalker-ish personality. Not only do we wonder why she’d be interested in this guy beyond a casual fling, but she’s no great catch either thanks to a screenplay that struggles to define who Adaline is. Born in 1908, she’s the very definition of an “old soul”. Her old-fashioned demeanor gives her a certain gracefulness, but her aloofness keeps us from forming an interest in Adaline beyond her gifts. It’s strange nobody has figured out her secret since her face is plastered everywhere, particularly in old photographs of the era. When she encounters these, they trigger flashbacks that clue us into her past but don’t necessarily inform her present. It says something that the greatest emotional tumult in Adaline’s life is when her beloved dog gets ill.
With a couple of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies to her credit, crime thriller The Town, plus the disastrous Green Lantern and Oliver Stone’s Savages, Lively is probably still best recognized from Gossip Girl. ‘Adaline’ could go a long way in changing that as she’s clearly the best thing about it. She’s mysterious and speaks with a careful cadence fitting of Adaline’s age, but her demeanor lightens when in the company of those who know her secret, as if freed from the emotional burden. Lively is particularly good when paired up with Harrison Ford, who plays Ellis’ father and one of Adaline’s past loves. For a brief time we see the potential of what this film could have been; a deeply personal love story about old lovers who must deal with what might have been and what never will be because of a twist of magical fate.
The Age of Adaline is directed by Lee Told Krieger, who turned a small relationship comedy Celeste and Jesse Forever into an affecting, and at times profound love story. Krieger doesn’t have the benefit of Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg to work with this time, though, but more importantly he’s saddled with a screenplay that makes Adaline’s immortal life seem very shallow.