The Age of Adaline – Lee Toland Krieger (2015)

That’s right, I saw this movie. I have a heart, and like it to be exercised occasionally. If only The Age of Adaline had given it the workout I was hoping for! This is the story of a woman who is trapped in the nightmare of looking like Blake Lively. Born at the turn of the 20th century, Adaline, upon acheiveing maturity, marries a young engineer, gives birth to a little girl, and then is promptly laid low by the unexpected death of her husband, felled by an accident during the construction of the Golden Gate bridge. (The majority of the movie takes place in San Francisco). Making her way as a young single mother, things take a turn for the weird, if not worse, when her car, caught in a freak snowfall on the way to visit her parents’ cabin in the woods, veers off the road, and into an icy body of water (river? lake? I don’t recall). She effectively dies from hypothermia (not drowning?), or so we are told by a pseudo-scientific voice on the soundtrack, but is jolted back to life when her watery grave is struck by an even freaker bolt of lightning. This gets her heart going again, sends her crashing back into the airy reality all but merfolk are forced to exist within, and also compresses her RNA mitochondria (or something like that), giving her the freak trifecta and winning her eternal youth – stuck forever at age 29. We get a general sense via montage that life at 29 is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when your daughter starts to look like your sister, then your mother, then a very old Ellen Burstyn. Hassled by the Feds during the Red Scare for nothing more than looking damn good at 46, Adaline goes underground, changing her identity, and her locale, when needs be. This paranoia, goaded on, we suspect, more by existential issues than by fear of winding up vivisected in a government lab, or worse, as the last cover girl L’Oreal will ever require, causes her to become hermetic in order to avoid the allergen of intimacy. Hence, her windfall is squandered, and this lovely, old fashioned, and, by the present day, incredibly learned and accomplished lady has not had a date in half a century. There was one suitor who wormed his way in, back in the swinging ’60s, but he was jilted, left in the lurch on a park bench clutching his engagement ring, never to know why Adaline scorned the affections that she also sought out.

Cut to the present day, where Adaline, not looking a day over 29, duh, is working in the San Fran library, and in the company only of a dog whose lineage is as vintage and untouched as her own (sired, seemingly, by parthenogenesis). Friends with a blind pianist, she is invited along to a gig at a swanky hotel downtown on New Year’s Eve. It is here that the saga of love begins, as she is spied across a crowded room by Ellis (Michiel Huisman), a massively rich coder philanthropist gadabout, who helps himself to a meet cute in the elevator. He pursues her doggedly, and she, old fashioned as she is, rebuffs, refuses, and then, eventually, relents (being modern enough it turns out to hop into bed on date two). She tries to ditch him, claiming she is moving to Oregon (which she is, to be near her aged daughter), but his stalkerish ways eventually convince her, and she travels with him to meet his family. This is where the movie picks up what emotional content it has, for, in a turn of events either romantic or incredibly awkward and with a perverted lining, Ellis’s father is indeed her old ’60s jiltee, William (Harrison Ford). Now happily married with kids, one of whom Adaline enjoys having sex with, William nearly swallows his false teeth upon seeing this seeming revenant, and for a while at least buys into the argument that she’s really Adaline’s daughter (she goes by the name Jenny these days). A telltale scar gives away the secret, and Adaline/Jenny flees the happy home, despite William’s pleading that she not repeat history and leave Ellis an island. Luckily for everyone, Adaline encounters another freak snowstorm on her way out of the woods, winds up in a gully (although not submerged), and helped along again by cold weather and an EMT with a defibrillator, she is brought back not only to life, but into the stream of life, her mitochondria stretching out comfortably and giving a sigh after 70 tense years. Ellis and Adaline reunite in the hospital, she spills the beans about being forever young, and they live happily ever after – or for maybe 40 more years, as even more happily, Adaline discovers she is no longer a spring chicken and is, indeed, going gray.

I fully admit that was more glib than the film actually warrants, but everyone needs some fun. Truly, the film is not awful. The tone, I think, is supposed to be modern-day fairy tale, what with the gently intoning voice-over, continual coinkydinks and all. The problems are not major; there is simply little feeling to the proceedings, little weight. I blame the acting. Blake Lively is fine as Adaline – she is not deep, but she gets the job done, and the role asks her to be little more than a pretty face that is tormented by that fact. (Okay, more like somewhat depressed and sulky). Huisman is a bigger problem. He lacks charisma, and his line readings are stilted – both of them seem like they’re rushing through their dialogue, which undercuts whatever chance the script had of being affecting (it is literate and does not lack for some degree of intelligence). So the first part of the movie is, like Adaline, pretty and amusing for its surface charms – where else can we see “A trip down Market Street before the fire,” circa 1906, blown up to be the equal of Vin Diesel’s bicep? – but it is otherwise dull. We keep waiting for the emergence of, if not heat, then at least light, and begin to fear that all is vanity. That is, until the oldsters arrive on the scene. Harrison Ford does his best acting work in ages (not a high bar to meet, admittedly) as the non-pervy old man who desperately wants to spare his dull, muscly son the pain that he endured so many years ago. (Seeing him galumph through the forest, trying to catch up to Adaline, is indeed heartening). Ellen Burstyn also does admirable work, bringing true depth and believability to the awkward situation of looking like your own great-grandmother – the scene at the end, in the hospital, where she says, unbelieving, “He knows?” in response to Adaline’s revelation that Ellis has just been brought up to speed was indeed effective, raising a lump in my throat as it revealed the true weight, and cost, of forcibly kept secrets, even as blithe and loopy a one as this. Otherwise… eh. The fairy tale aspect has validity if we consider the plight of women trapped by a culture obsessed with youth and beauty at all costs, but this heft is undercut by the voice-over which, acceptable as a mood setter, albeit a nutty one, at the film’s opening, devolves into outright laughability in the finale (where it should have been cut). Not a good film, not a bad film, very few highs, no lows. One and a half lumps in the throat. I have nothing more to say – I can hardly believe I’ve gone this far.

Two and a half stars out of five

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