The Age of Adaline

April 25, 2015
Blake Lively in 'Age of Adaline' (2015)
Blake Lively in 'Age of Adaline' (2015)

Anyone who is still meditating on the fragility of life after watching Testament of Youth, may not be in the most receptive mood for The Age of Adaline. The story concerns a woman named Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) who is permanently fixed at the age of 29 due to a freak – and utterly unconvincing – accident.

Poor Adaline has to suffer the pain of watching friends and King Charles Spaniels grow old and die while she remains in her glamorous prime. We meet her at the real age of 106, filled with existential agonies that have led her to keep changing identities at regular intervals. She worries about getting too close to anyone lest her secret be discovered.

This may be psychologically plausible but it makes Adaline a peculiar exception to the vast mass of humanity who would love to have her problems. Admittedly, I’m not impressed by the originality of the concept. My wife has been 29 years-old for as long as I can remember and has no plans for further aging.

The fantasy trimmings do not disguise the fact that The Age of Adaline is hardly more than a run-of-the-mill chick flick. This is what might have happened had Barbara Cartland set out to write a science fiction story.

If there is a point where the Cartland touch might have improved this tale, it would have to be the love interest. Michiel Huismans (another refugee from Game of Thrones!) plays Ellis Jones, a wealthy, hirsute young philanthropist, who falls for Adaline at first sight. He’s rich but altogether too soft and cuddly. In the time-honoured pulp romance formula the heroine always finds the hero to be arrogant and distasteful at first, fastening her sights on some lowly specimen who turns out to be a louse.

In this film Adaline is the only stumbling block to true romance. When she allows Ellis to bring her home to meet his parents it turns out that Mr. Jones senior (Harrison Ford), was the former love of her life, whom she cruelly rejected some time in the 1960s – leaving both parties with broken hearts. Unlike the virginal Vera Brittain, Adaline’s relations with both generations of Joneses have been physical as well as spiritual.

“What a stunning twist of fate!” you exclaim. Or perhaps, “What a lame plot device!” For director, Lee Toland Krieger, and his script-writers, J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz, nothing too complex must be allowed to disturb the viewer’s stupor.

The story of how Adaline attains her rare condition, through a conjunction of cosmic radiation and car crash, is intoned by a disembodied narrator while music swells in the background. There are no prizes for guessing how her problems will ultimately be resolved.

“Blake Lively” is a name that sets up expectations which are not always met. To convey an impression of worldly wisdom that comes with age, Lively tries out a full range of languid, wistful expressions. It makes her appear smug, as if she’s looking down on mere mortals. Ageless Adaline is attractive but the mania she inspires in the Jones boys is over-the-top. After about 40 years, Jones senior is almost apoplectic when he sees her again.

Perhaps Lively was simply trying to find a way to animate a very ordinary script. For 32-year-old director, Krieger, the greatest sin is a lack of creative ambition. The leading idea, dumb as it is, allowed for a vast range of scenarios. The relationship between 29-year-old Adaline and her 80-year-old daughter, played by Ellen Burstyn, offered opportunities for comedy and pathos that have been largely ignored. Although Adaline speaks six languages and a whiz at Trivial Pursuit, she is as sulky as a teenager when it comes to human relationships.

There is a relentless dumbing down is this movie as Krieger drops anchor in the tepid waters of popular romance. The plot is so formulaic it feels as if the producers had behaviourist ideas about their audience and the director needed the job. If there was no pressure on Krieger to move in such a direction one assumes he thinks this is the way of graduating from the indies to the mainstream. He may well be right. In today’s Hollywood it seems that he who dares to be mediocre will be put in charge of a big budget feature.

The Age of Adaline
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Written by J. Mills Goodloe & Salvador Paskowitz
Starring Blake Lively, Michiel Husiman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker
USA, rated M, 110 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 25th April, 2015.