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Dustin Putman

The Age of Adaline  (2015)
2½ Stars
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger.
Cast: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew, Anthony Ingruber, Lynda Boyd, Cate Richardson, Anjali Jay, Richard Harmon; voice of Hugh Ross.
2015 – 112 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for a suggestive comment).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, April 22, 2015.
The age of Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) is 107 when her birthday rolls around on January 1, 2015, but she permanently looks 29, her body immune to the ravages of time following a freak 1937 car accident, a dip in frigid waters that stopped her heart, and a timely lightning strike that defibrillated her back to life. Frightened of being captured and studied by the FBI, she has been using aliases for over sixty years, moving around every decade and refusing to get close to anyone save for the one person who knows the truth, now-elderly daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn). Weeks before Adaline (currently going by Jennifer Larson) is due to relocate from San Francisco to a farmhouse in Oregon, she has a serendipitous run-in with the handsome, thirty-something Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman). She hasn't allowed herself to feel this way about another person for many, many years, afraid there cannot possibly be a future with someone who will continue to grow old while she remains exactly the same. As Flemming tells her, however, she shouldn't be wary of opening herself to the possibility of love; as with life itself, no relationship lasts forever.

"The Age of Adaline" weaves a fantastical tale within a plausible real-world setting. Comparisons to 2008's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" are inevitable, though in this case Adaline appears to be immortal rather than aging backward. This handsome romantic drama, written by J. Mills Goodloe (2014's "The Best of Me") and Salvador Paskowitz and directed by Lee Toland Krieger (2012's "Celeste and Jesse Forever"), shows restraint and emotional delicacy, striking truthful existential notes without falling back on maudlin melodrama. Whether it be Adaline having lunch with a daughter who is now in her eighties and thinking about moving to a retirement community in Arizona, or Adaline placing a picture of her latest dog in a photo album filled with all of the pets she has had to say good-bye to throughout her long life, the film brings a poignant humanity to the notion of looking back on the past as the passage of time marches forward without stopping. Scenes such as these, or another where she watches old film strips of San Francisco from generations long gone, give too-infrequent breadth and insight into her unique situation.

The majority of the narrative prefers to live in the present day, and this is where the script threatens to sell itself a bit short. By putting so much focus into a single romance between Adaline and Ellis that isn't as charismatic or desperately star-crossed as one hopes it to be, the story's would-be sweep is stunted and minimized. There is far too much time, for example, focused on a weekend trip the two of them take to visit Ellis' parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) for the married couple's fortieth anniversary. It is easy to see how this project could have been handed a grander, more dizzying vision encapsulating the glory and tragedy of Adaline's entire existence, and this is where hints of disappointment invade the goings-on.

The more complex and involving relationship that arises does not involve Ellis, anyway, but his recently retired astronomer father William, with whom Adaline is surprised to discover she shares a history. The scenes between Blake Lively (2012's "Savages") and Harrison Ford (2013's "Ender's Game") carry a sense of urgency and gravitas that complicate the waters in a fascinating way missing from the more inevitable, standard-issue bond she shares with Michiel Huisman's (2014's "Wild") Ellis. As the wise yet cursedly youthful-looking title character, Lively gives a performance of remarkable depth and sensitivity, embodying without fault a woman who has the physicality and appearance of a young woman but has already surpassed a century on the planet. The viewer actively cares about Adaline and wants to follow her even when the places she is taken do not do total justice to the full life—and revolving lives—she has led. As William, Ford hasn't been handed a role this dramatically demanding in quite some time; he is undeniably powerful as a man whose future path was irrevocably altered by a chance encounter he had in the 1960s.

"The Age of Adaline" was lensed in part in British Columbia, but it is impossible to guess this from how alive the film is with the sights and feel of San Francisco. Cinematographer David Lanzenberg has shot a lovely slice of magical realism, matched by Blake Lively's exquisite turn in the lead role. The irreplaceable Ellen Burstyn (2014's "Interstellar") deserves mentioning, too, touchingly portraying Lively's daughter, Flemming, and somehow, some way making it entirely believable. Unfortunately, it is the love story chosen to be at the center that doesn't work as well as what surrounds it. For Adaline to choose to stop running and finally be honest about her bitter, wildly uncommon circumstances, the picture yearns for a passionate, multidimensional romance between two people who are soul mates through and through. Instead, Adaline's truest love seems to be someone she walked away from nearly fifty years earlier. Yes, she and Ellis get along fine, but there is the sinking suspicion lurking just beneath the surface of the otherwise affecting "The Age of Adaline" that she has chosen to settle with her second choice.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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