Film Review – The Age of Adaline
The Age of Adaline
On a distant planet far off in the galaxy, an alien life form got a tickle under its nose and sneezed. This sneeze caused a ripple effect throughout the universe, eventually shifting the Earth’s rotational axis by .0002 degrees. The global change forced the Earth’s temperature to increase by .000001 degrees. Warm climates caused the ocean to rise by half a foot. That distortion led to a studio creating a film. This film was shown at a screening. I was an attendant of said screening. Because I was present at the screening, I am now here sitting in front of my computer writing a review. And thus, an involuntary sneeze that happened light years away has magically caused me to be here with you now. Destiny.
This is about the equivalent of what you’re going to get with The Age of Adaline (2015). Directed by Lee Toland Krieger – with a screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz – the film is soaked with melodrama and romanticism. That’s not always a bad thing. I enjoy a good love story, but boy, this thing reeks with corniness. It pushes the emotional manipulation to the breaking point, throwing in every romantic cliché there is. Characters walk around with googily eyes, so deep in love that it borders on obsession. You have young lovers, old lovers, youthful exuberance and lost opportunities all mixed together. Oh, and just in case the cuteness doesn’t hit maximum levels, they also toss in a puppy. Awwwww.
The main hook is that the protagonist Adaline (Blake Lively) never ages past 29. She was born in 1908 as a regular healthy baby girl. As an adult, Adaline was involved in a car accident that endows her with this special state of being, allowing her to maintain her youthful beauty. She’s immortal like a vampire, except without all the fun of bloodsucking. With her condition, Adaline is forced to come to a cruel realization: she must move every few years to avoid suspicion, changing her name and cutting all personal ties. This means leaving friends, family, and lovers behind before certain threats (such as the government) come looking for her.
I was afraid the issue of aging would closely resemble the conundrum Brad Pitt’s character went through in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). To its credit, Adaline steers away enough to have its own identity. Blake Lively does an ample enough job portraying an old soul in a young body. She integrates a vocal inflection that has an airy quality to it, resembling that sort of upper class affectation that Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly had. Lively’s performance is good, although at times it seemed the film was more concerned with how she looked than her emotional turmoil. Adaline’s predicament could cause serious psychological issues, but it was more of an annoyance to her than anything else. But hey, at least she’ll always look great in a dress!
We fast forward to the near present, with Adaline working in a library in San Francisco. It’s there she meets the hunky Ellis (Michiel Huisman). Ellis is perfect in every way. He’s smart, rich, philanthropic, has wonderful parents (Harrison Ford/Kathy Baker) and grows a mean beard. However, knowing that he will age and she will not, Adaline finds it difficult to open up to his advances. I suppose you already know where all of this is going, don’t you?
Krieger’s direction has a tone that calls to mind a fairy tale or urban legend. David Lanzenberg’s cinematography is polished, with many beautiful shots and nice compositions. The lighting and color palette has a surreal, almost otherworldly style, changing as we flashback throughout the decades – appropriate for the material. There’s some elegant details that highlight what time and place we enter. On a technical level, this is very well made.
But what it lacks – on a writing level – is subtlety. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a narrative continuously hammer every…single…explanation…for everything. What characters are thinking, how they’re feeling, how they relate to each other, how they see themselves, etc. There is so much expositional dialogue that Christopher Nolan would be jealous. Plot twists have to be explained, leaving nothing open to interpretation. And worst of all, this features a dreadful narration that is compelled to describe everything that we see happening on the screen. Dates, times – every tiny bit of information is arduously rolled out by the narrator (voiced by Hugh Ross). It goes so far as to explain the science behind Adaline’s condition. Are you kidding me? In a romance where destiny and fate play a role, we have to succumb to a lecture teaching how weather patterns contribute to someone not aging? Excuse me while I roll my eyes.
The Age of Adaline is gorgeous on a visual basis, but remains empty behind a heavily contrived plot, preposterous scientific mumbo jumbo, and unabashed romantic exaggeration. It perpetuates society’s fascination with eternal youth (you’d never see a story of a character stuck at age 45), and never examines the significance of its construct on any deeper level. There are some pretty surfaces abound, but nothing more.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with actor Michiel Huisman.