Past the Popcorn: Blake Lively Captivates Stunningly in The Age of Adaline

by Jeff Walls

The thing about a fantasy is that it is by definition unreal and fantastic; it doesn’t need to be grounded in reality.  The Age of Adaline is a romantic fantasy about a woman who does not age, and the potential is there for it to be a classic movie fantasy—the kind of movie that allows the audience to escape from the restrictions of reality and just get swept away in the story and its characters.  Unfortunately, even while providing us with some magical visuals, the creators of the movie keep trying to ground their movie in reality, making it difficult for the audience to willing suspend their disbelief.

Adaline Bowman was born at the dawn of the 20th Century and for twenty-nine years she lived and aged just like any other.  Following a terrible car accident that leaves her for dead, she is miraculously resurrected.  As time goes on, she discovers that she has stopped aging.  She gets by for awhile, but soon people she knows begin to notice that something is amiss.  This includes law enforcement, and the FBI even comes calling.  Fearing she will be treated like a lab rat, Adaline begins a life on the run, changing her identity every few years.

age-of-adaline-insetIn modern day, just as Adaline is preparing to change identities and move away again, she meets the eligible bachelor Ellis Jones and reluctantly begins a relationship.  She tells Ellis that it can never last, but he continues to pursue her anyway.  His parents are about to celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary with a big bash and so Ellis invites Adaline to spend the weekend with him at their house.  It seems like a harmless idea, until Adaline discovers that Ellis is not the only member of the Jones family with whom she has had a relationship.

There is a lot to like about The Age of Adaline.  First and foremost, Blake Lively is a vision in the title role.  Not only does she look stunning as a perpetual twenty-nine year old, but she also manages to convey the world weariness of someone who has experienced over one hundred years on planet earth.  She has some terrific scenes with Ellen Burstyn, who plays her daughter, a woman who has continued to age even as her mother remains ageless.  Her relationship with Lynda Boyd’s blind pianist also makes for a couple of enjoyable moments.

The movie looks as fantastic as its lead actress.  The visual presentation of the film is very classical Hollywood and helps the movie to feel like the ethereal romantic fantasy that it strives to be. Unfortunately, the filmmakers can’t just leave well enough alone, and they add a storybook-like narration.

The narration itself is not really the problem and in fact would have worked quite well in moderation.  The movie relies too much on it, however, especially in moments when it really doesn’t need to.  This is especially apparent during the scene in which Adaline is miraculously resurrected and granted her anti-aging superpowers.  The sequence is beautifully shot with falling snowflakes and bright flashes of lightning, but over this the narrator is trying to explain to us the science behind what we are seeing and providing a grounded explanation for why this miracle is happening.  It is akin to George Lucas introducing midi-chlorians in an attempt to scientifically explain the force in the Star Wars prequels, as opposed to just telling us that it is “an energy field created by all living things” as he did in the original trilogy. It is unnecessary and in some ways, insulting to the audience.  The visuals alone would have served the film’s purpose on their own.

The effort to scientifically explain the movie’s central miracle keeps The Age of Adaline from being a great romantic fantasy, but the elements of one are still there and that makes it at least worth checking out some cozy night by the fire.

The Age of Adaline opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16 in downtown Seattle. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Eat local before you go!

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