Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger
Premise: In the early twentieth century, an accident involving freezing water and a lightning bolt renders a young woman (Blake Lively) ageless. After many decades of living without physically aging, she meets a young man who she would like to live happily ever after with.
What Works: One of the most notable things about The Age of Adaline is its restraint. With a few exceptions, the moviemakers do not force the characters into contrived situations. A lot of the movie plays out very evenly and the story has a few emotionally evocative beats without belaboring them. The restraint of the film is primarily on display in its title character. With the lack of female roles in Hollywood movies there has been a call for more roles for women, with the phrase “strong female characters” the usual refrain. The trouble is that when Hollywood does provide these “strong female characters” they almost exclusively take the form of unflappable action heroines often played by actresses such as Scarlett Johansson and Milla Jovovich. There’s nothing wrong with those roles, but it is a very narrow way to define a strong female character. As good storytellers and learned consumers of narrative can tell you, a character is really strong when he or she possesses subtlety and multi-dimensionality and is empathetic, which requires a degree of vulnerability. Adaline has most of those traits and she is brought to life on the screen effectively by actress Blake Lively. This actress hasn’t been cast in many good parts but here she gets to be the lead and demonstrates her talents. Lively plays the part with a mix of intelligence and vulnerability that is very appealing. Her performance largely makes the movie and the romance between Adaline and a young man played by Michiel Huisman is very agreeable and puts something at stake in the final portion of the movie. The film also features a supporting performance by Harrison Ford that is startlingly emotional and adds gravitas to the picture.
What Doesn’t: The Age of Adaline has an interesting concept but it does not do much with it that is interesting. Whenever the movie introduces something interesting the filmmakers often marginalize it. After Adaline achieves immortality the film skips ahead through the first generation of her life. The movie never dramatizes the moment in which she realizes her gift. There are several potential subplots and story beats that are dropped or underdeveloped. Shortly after achieving immortality, Adaline is accosted by government agents who either know her secret or suspect her of Cold War espionage; it’s never clear what they want her for and after this single scene the government disappears from the story. Before her accident, Adaline has a daughter who eventually out-ages her mother. Here again the filmmakers miss opportunities to do something interesting such as exploring what it would mean for a parent to be physically younger than her daughter. For that matter, the film does not do much with its central character. Adaline has certain traits that give away her age but the filmmakers don’t create situations that explore what it means to live forever. By comparison, movies like Interview with the Vampire and Mr. Nobody and even Zardoz better interrogated that premise. The filmmakers impose a voice over narration onto the picture that is both pretentious and unnecessary. The narration spells out what is obvious to anyone watching the movie and it is used in an attempt to impose a grandness onto the picture that it does not earn. The conclusion of The Age of Adaline is the film’s most serious misstep. After finally injecting some tension into the story and forcing the title character into a crisis, the filmmakers opt for a preposterous resolution that is a narrative and thematic copout.
Bottom Line: The Age of Adaline is a mixed effort. The movie has some strong performances and an interesting premise but in the end the film does not leave the viewer with enough to chew on.
Episode: #540 (May 3, 2015)