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Entries in Age of Adaline/The [2015] (1)

Monday
Apr272015

The Age of Adaline (2015)

The Curious Case of Adaline Bowman

Like its main character, Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline is an oddity stuck between eras and conventions. What’s being sold as a love-through-the-ages weepy starring grown-up Gossip Girl Blake Lively is actually a dreamy meditation on nostalgia, best appreciated by grown-ups who are likely to write it off as childish.

In fairness, the premise sounds like "Twilight Meets The X-Men": in the early 1900s, twenty-something Adaline Bowman (Lively) gets into a car wreck during a freak snowstorm; she lands in a river, which is then struck by lightning, and gains a cellular immunity to the effects of aging. For the next century, she changes cities and identities every ten years—outrunning government spooks and avoiding relationships with everyone except her daughter (played in modern-day scenes by Ellen Burstyn). Of course, she meets the Guy Who Could Change Everything (hunky and kind-hearted Ellis, played by Michiel Huisman) mere days before she's set to skip town. If you've seen the trailers, you know that Ellis' father (Harrison Ford) is a former lover of Adaline's who finally gets to confront the girl that ran out on him in the 60s.

Here we have a wonderful example of why execution matters more than premise. Instead of amping up the melodrama like some Benjamin Button ripoff, Krieger and screenwriters J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz give their film room to breathe. Adaline made a fortune as an early Xerox investor, but must live an uncomplicated and anonymous life to avoid detection. We meet her in San Francisco, where she's found structure and purpose in a day-job digitizing archival newsreels; for fun, she learns languages and consumes as much world history as her never-aging brain will allow. In many respects, this is the workaday counterpart to Only Lovers Left Alive--a languid look at immortality's duelling liberties and constraints, which are far more dramatic than any contrived attacks by outside forces.

That said, The Age of Adaline is still a mainstream movie; an off-kilter "chick flick" that necessarily involves a shirtless, glistening hunk of marble with whom Adaline must become involved. Of course, Ellis is a millionaire, a philanthropist, and so hopelessly romantic that he professes undying love by week two. For good measure, we're also treated to an oh-so-brainy climactic mirroring of the earlier car crash and allegedly pulse-pounding "Live, Dammit" CPR. Sorry if that's spoilery, but the plot-related stuff is truly the least interesting part of the movie and feels very much like an executive-committee memo. On the plus-side, Krieger and company's brand of the Fantasy-fulfillment Dude is more Bruce Wayne than Christian Gray.

The bad stuff is ten percent of the movie, liberally peppered throughout so as not to tarnish any of the truly touching and thought-provoking scenes. Oddly enough, Lively is not among the film's stand-outs. She's fine here, but there's an off-putting bit of opera to her portrayal of Adaline, as if the actress thinks people in the 1930s spoke like Kristen Wiig's Mindy Elise Grayson character from SNL. By contrast, Burstyn and Ford make the film not only worth seeing but downright memorable.

Burstyn brings the weight of actual experience to the part of Adaline's daughter, acting as the physical manifestation of her mother's inner self. It may be an impossible feat for a young actress such as Lively to embody the emotional intelligence of a seasoned one like Burstyn, but that's what the main character needed here. This weird dynamic works better later in the film, as mentor/mentee roles switch, but I still felt a lot of potential left on the cosmic table.

Ford dots the "i" on the filmmakers' message about the devastation of unrequited young love. The movie deftly picks up momentum when his character enters it, in a unique illustration of the differences between his life and Adaline's: while time has stopped meaning anything to her, his memories remain trapped in a sad amber loop that have (consciously and unconsciously) informed his every decision for fifty years. The stories converge as both adults--who are, in many ways, still kids*--learn to incorporate the past into the present. Frankly, I was surprised by Ford, and had forgotten what a charged, nuanced actor he is. Lifelong fans waiting to see him switch back on in Star Wars really need to check out his work here.

Like Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, The Age of Adaline is a lovely film that's mostly content to just be lovely. Despite some contrivances here and there, Krieger and company invite the audience to spend time with a good-hearted woman who just happens to have supernatural abilities. The lack of internal complexity doesn't make Adaline Bowman (or her story) semi-dimensional; it underscores the fact that we've rarely seen an immortal's existential struggle in film quite like this: gods conquer worlds because they can; vampires brood because they're too narcissistic to kill themselves; zombies are shambling shells that don't know any better. By living simply and loving deliberately (sometimes to a fault), Adaline becomes an aspirational figure--one who encourages us to appreciate the endless possibilities of our own not-so-endless time.

*Kudos to the film's casting team for bringing on Anthony Ingruber as the young version of Ford's character. Watching this handsome, charismatic performer is like witnessing the most convincing CGI human performance ever. He's a flesh-and-blood doppelganger, several decades removed, whose presence ripped open a new crevice in my brain's Uncanny Valley.