The Age of Adaline

| September 13, 2015

Now available of DVD and BluRay, The Age of Adaline is a film that feels like it should mean more. Telling the story of a woman named Adaline (Blake Lively) who one day mysteriously stops aging, the film is the type of high concept epic that is rarely made, (unless you’re David Fincher and you make a movie called Benjamin Button). Yet, despite this engaging hook of a premise, not to mention the film’s stellar production values and effective casting, there is something stunted and small-minded about The Age of Adaline.

Spanning the course of 100 years, the film begins in present-day San Francisco, where we meet the titular Adaline. Sad-faced and burdened by her affliction, Adaline lives a lonely existence. Her only consistent companion is her adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and she works at the city’s downtown library in the archives department (the film is not exactly subtle).

One day at her job, Adaline is given the opportunity to inspect old newsreels and stock footage. This provokes heavily-stylized flashbacks, where we watch and listen as Adaline’s life story is revealed. Born in 1908, she lived a normal existence until her 29th birthday, when a freak car accident led to her body’s inability to properly age. This sequence, along with several others throughout the story, is omnisciently narrated by Hugh Ross. Although well shot, it feels incongruent with the film’s more contemporary moments.

However, it does help explain Adaline’s downtrodden demeanor, as part of the flashback revolves around the federal government becoming aware of Adaline’s abnormality, and then attempting to abduct her on a dark and stormy night. In order to prevent such occurrences, and protect herself and her daughter (played by Cate Richardson as a twenty-something and Ellen Burstyn as an older woman), Adaline then resolves to lead a nomadic lifestyle, eschewing any future relationships.

As you might expect, this is a promise that proves difficult to keep, especially when hunky and extraordinarily wealthy bachelors like Michiel Huisman’s Ellis seem to materialize out of thin air. Moving with all the willful eagerness of a dumb puppy, this character begins to romantically pursue Adaline shortly after meeting her. Despite her reticence, she soon relents and is quickly swept into what may be a doomed love affair. Adaline slowly starts reconsidering a century of running away from human connection.

Ironically, despite the importance the film attaches to this pairing, the relationship that develops between Ellis and Adaline is by far the film’s least interesting element. Their initial encounter, staging uninspiringly in a descending elevator, is a “meet cute” moment that feels exceptionally forced. The writers of the film obviously had their eye on making this a substantial love story, filled with wit and verve. However, the result is a testament to what can happen when one’s ambition outstrips one’s abilities. The opening “banter” between the couple is riddled with tin-eared dialogue, such as when Adaline asks if Ellis’s name is “Like the island?”  and he responds with “No man is.”

Yet, the groan-inducing dialogue is the least of this film’s worries. Far greater problems lie in the fact that both Lively’s Adaline and Huisman’s Ellis are essentially colorless. Both actors struggle valiantly against underwritten parts, with Lively in particular appearing credible as an old soul in a young body. Yet, this still doesn’t change the general weightlessness that the script injects into their characters. For instance, if you removed the affliction of Lively’s character she would be almost devoid of personality. And Huisman’s Ellis? Well, the film also doesn’t do the actor any favors. His character has got nothing going for him, aside from just being mildly dopey.

The film picks up a marginal amount of steam once the couple takes off for a weekend at the home of Ellis’s parents, who are gamely played by Kathy Baker and Harrison Ford. As an older man with a connection to Adaline’s past, Ford has rarely been as vulnerable as he is here. His open, demonstrative performance is easily the film’s most affecting quality, and infuses the proceedings with some much needed drama. What’s perhaps shameful about this effective work, however, is that it further relegates Lively’s Adaline – the ostensible star of the show. It also reveals her as the film’s fatal flaw, and as a mortal sin of screenwriting. Adaline is an entirely passive character, and the contrast created once Ford’s character is introduced explicitly highlights this.

Still, Lively’s problematic protagonist might be forgivable if the film had higher intellectual ambitions, if it plunged more ambitiously into the thematic possibilities offered through its premise. The Age of Adaline is that it revolves around perhaps the most important element of the human condition, one which affects nearly all other aspects of life: the inevitability of death. While the film does parse how the removal of this would affect someone, its analysis is incredibly superficial. It completely brushes over how Adaline feels about having a daughter who is significantly older than her, and vice-versa (the formidable Burstyn is essentially wasted). Additionally, the film doesn’t even attempt to broach the disconnect human beings can have between their minds and their corporal bodies. Like, isn’t Adaline weirded out at all about getting involved with Ellis, who is her junior by easily 70 years?

Such holes in its thematic tapestry stunt a film that had the potential to be something of substantial worth. The Age of Adaline may have had everything it needed to succeed on paper. Yet, its lack of vision cuts off this promise at the knees. It stops this age before it even begins.

About the Author:

Adam Mohrbacher is a freelance film critic and writer who currently lives in Denver, CO.
Filed in: Video and DVD
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