If there is one takeaway from The Age of Adaline, it is that eternal youth is not only painful and lonely (even if you are Blake Lively and “cursed” to look that gorgeous forever. Oh, boohoo.), but also plain and superficial. Because that is exactly how this movie feels.
MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) appears to be a regular young woman living in San Francisco, but looks are deceiving, especially in her case. Adaline is actually 107 years old, “cursed” with eternal youth after a combination of drowning and lightning in the 1930s caused the then-29-year-old to stop ageing. Conveniently enough, her unique condition would not be discovered or explained until 2035, so Adaline finds herself constantly moving and changing her identity in order to avoid suspicious authorities.
Resultantly, Adaline rarely gets to see her ageing daughter (Ellen Burstyn) and keeps most of her friends at bay. That begins to change when Adaline meets the charming Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), whom she falls in love with and attempts to open up to. But Adaline begins to doubt the possibility of a future with Ellis when she finds out that his father is William (Harrison Ford), a former boyfriend (played as a young man by Anthony Ingruber) from Adaline’s past that she had to leave for similar reasons.
While Lively no doubt pulls off the 107-year-old vibe, Adaline feels more like a 20-something-year-old woman with an old soul than a woman who has lived for more than a century. Strangely enough, the film rarely shows Adaline’s past, giving us only brief glimpses in the form of flashback montages that amount to no more than five minutes of the entire movie. It really does not take a rocket scientist (that the annoying narrator attempts to sound like) to figure out why it is difficult for viewers to remember that Adaline has physically lived for that long.
The other problem is that these montages also reduce Adaline’s relationships to meaningless and superficial memories. Adaline’s first husband is forgotten almost as soon as he is mentioned. We are shown almost nothing about their marriage besides the fact that they have a daughter and that he passed away in an accident. Time clearly heals all wounds because a hundred years later, Adaline never mentions or even thinks about him (save for one brief glance at an old photo). Viewers are expected to assume that Adaline loved her husband because clearly, nobody has time to talk about him. His plot function is no more than a sperm donor to bring to life Adaline’s ageing daughter.
Likewise, the montage does nothing for Adaline’s supposedly passionate relationship with the young William. The romance never goes deeper than the visual evidence that William and Adaline behave like they are in love. True emotion is only injected into that relationship through Ford’s commendable performance when he reminisces about his past with Adaline.
It is also unfortunate that Ford’s retelling of William’s love for Adaline is actually more passionate than Adaline’s ongoing romance with Ellis, which takes place throughout the entire movie. Ellis is your typical romantic male lead; charming, suave, has great ideas for wooing his lady and taking her out on dates. But it all stops there. The relationship never soars to the necessarily cheesy and dramatic moments that reflect true intensity, a la Noah and Allie of The Notebook. There is nothing extraordinary to show why Ellis is the one who changes it all, besides the fact that he just happened to be there when Adaline was becoming frustrated with her eternal loneliness.
Ellis’ love is like Adaline’s age; the movie does a lot of saying but very little showing. All of the “I can’t imagine my life without you”s and “I’ve had too many birthdays”s are heard, but in no way felt.
The final complaint is with the random narrator, who is not only omniscient, but also an ostentatious know-it-all. The male voice (God knows who it was and where it came from) pops up as and when he likes towards the opening and final segments of the film. He goes from narrating the obvious to bombarding viewers with heavy scientific ramblings about the human body and meteorology. He is that annoying wiseacre friend that is whispering to you during the movie.
However, despite The Age of Adaline‘s complete superficiality and nothingness, the movie holds together (certainly beyond expectation) because of surprisingly strong performances. Blake Lively is convincing as a member of the centennial club, speaking with a wise, firm tone and slow pace that only comes with the patience from having lived that long. Indeed, there are moments of slip-up when Lively plays the hopelessly-in-love girl and loses grip of her character’s age, coming across as no older than a flustered teenager. But the 27-year-old actress by and large wins us over with her old-fashioned manners and charm.
But the applause is no doubt reserved for Harrison Ford, whose memorable performance is the main source of emotion and heartbreak necessary for The Age of Adaline to qualify as a romance movie. Ford is the veteran who does not disappoint. He makes his character the most “real” and likeable, and it is opposite him that Lively has her strongest moments.
At the end of the day, the allure of The Age of Adaline is the desire for young audiences to see Blake Lively look gorgeous forever, or more specifically, look gorgeous in every era since the 1900s. And that is just as well, because Lively and Ford are not only the movie’s selling points, but also the strongest assets that keep everything from falling apart.
Rating: 2.0/5 (TALK-o-meter: “That’s a thumbs down, Gladiator-style.”)