The Age of Adaline, directed by Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste and Jesse Forever) isn’t the first romantic drama to borrow fantastical concepts in order to reach a wider audience. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, About Time, and Meet Joe Black have all used similar supernatural elements to elevate their respective stories to varying degrees. The Age of Adaline attempts to tell a modern-day fairy tale about an ageless woman, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), struggling with the mortality surrounding her while never having to face it herself. Regrettably, the film gets sidetracked with Adaline’s predictable and unengaging romance with the philanthropic millionaire Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman).
The ambiguous, slightly sardonic narrator informs us that Adaline Bowman, widower and mother of one, was involved in a car accident in the 1930s and through a mixture of death, hypothermia, and the “magical” powers of lightning was given the gift of eternal youth. The cause of her agelessness is quickly brushed over without a second thought, which is readily acceptable in the case of a typical fantasy plot. The years begin to pass and Adeline remains a 29 year old in appearance – no wrinkles, no gray hairs, nothing to indicate her true age. While initially this sounds ideal, it proves too good to be true as those around her, including some shady government officials, slowly begin taking notice of this peculiarity and start demanding answers. Adaline is forced to go on the run, leaving behind her college-aged daughter in the process. She remains vigilant, constantly relocating to various countries and acquiring new identification in order to keep the interested parties off of her trail. However, matters of the heart eventually interfere and she is forced to confront some hard truths and choices after a series of serendipitous events.
The Age of Adaline loosely plays with the narrative, jumping back and forth between time periods freely during the first act of the film, and it’s during these moments that the film truly comes alive. We are given glimpses into Adaline’s fascinating life during several different decades, watching as she begins noticing the consequences and drawbacks of her “gift”. As previously mentioned, these are only glimpses, and the film eventually settles into the meandering romance taking place in the completely ordinary ‘here-and-now’. Instead of a sprawling epic in the vein of Forrest Gump, we are treated to a watered-down Nicholas Sparks-esque yarn.
The film rests on the shoulders of Blake Lively who feels miscast, choosing to give Adaline a very cold and rigid demeanor. It’s clear that Lively wanted to imbue Adaline with the wisdom and grace of a person who has experienced all that she could within 107 years. Instead, the character comes across as a needlessly stubborn and indifferent know-it-all. Part of the blame can be aimed towards the script, but I can’t help but feel that if recast with a different actress (perhaps Natalie Portman, who was previously sought after for Adaline’s role), we would have had a much more sympathetic and engaging Adaline.
Faring much better are the two male leads found in Adaline’s two main love interests. Michiel Huisman (Game of Thrones, Orphan Black) handles his first mainstream leading role superbly, bringing wit and charisma to a character that is as farfetched as the source of Adaline’s fantastical attribute. Huisman’s character, Ellis, is the male equivalent to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Ellis is blatantly flawless in nearly every conceivable way. He is handsome, rugged, quirky, brilliant, wealthy and philanthropic…the closest his character comes to having a flaw is that he is really persistent in his crush on Adaline, almost stalker-ish…but like Adaline, we forgive him, because he is Mr. Right, after all.
Harrison Ford appears in the convoluted third act as Ellis’ father and Adaline’s former lover William Jones. Although his character’s introduction occurs so late in the film that his inclusion serves to needlessly extend an already overly long film. Harrison Ford is given some of the film’s most tender and earnest moments. His work as Adaline’s aged former love is undeniably moving and heartfelt, displaying an intensity and sincerity that has largely been absent from his roles in the past decade.
The Age of Adaline’s biggest failing lies within the script, which when compared to other similarly themed films, simply fails to deliver on its fantastical premise or its heavily focused romance. Structurally, the script never quite knows how to handle the wondrous moments that inherently come from a heroine who never ages. We are never allowed to see Adaline have fun with or embrace her gift, which provides the film with a very somber and dour atmosphere. On the other hand, the script doesn’t want to fully explore the themes of mortality that are constantly being referenced. We are never privy to the more emotionally-gripping scenes of loss or death, aside from one small moment with her pet cocker spaniel…something most of us go through in our ordinary lives without the gift of eternal youth.
The central attraction of the film is the romance between Adaline and Ellis, and while they are both very attractive people, there is no chemistry between the two. Though Michiel Huisman is very endearing and sweet, the pair’s interactions feel clinical and calculated due to Adaline’s withholding nature. The script prevents the characters from getting to know each other, and as a result, the audience isn’t allowed to fully understand or embrace either character. The languid romance between the two is nothing short of an inevitable slog, content to rely on worn-out romantic tropes as it lurches along to the happy ending we all know is waiting for the couple.
The Age of Adaline is inoffensive romantic counter-programming, offering nothing new or exciting to a genre filled with vastly superior options. There are definitely things to like in the film: mostly great, likeable performances and competent, if unspectacular, direction and editing. Still, the film ultimately remains crippled by the lifeless and dull romance on which it hinges. There are some good moments sprinkled throughout The Age of Adaline, but those moments aren’t enough to help the film rise to anything above an unambitious and simple romantic drama that lacks any real magic.