Film Review: The Age of Adaline

A magic-realist fable that, save for a sturdy supporting turn from Harrison Ford, is as unoriginal as it is sluggish.
Major Releases

The Age of Adaline peddles the fantasy of not only looking like Blake Lively, but looking like her for eternity—a wrinkle-free situation that, per Lee Toland Krieger’s romantic drama, is posited as a burden more than a blessing. For Adaline (Lively), never growing old is the result of a 1930s car accident that, due to a combination of snow, freezing water, and a lightning strike, magically preserves her at the peak of youthful beauty. But as flashbacks reveal, agelessness proves to be a tragic situation, bestowing upon Adaline a life spent running from FBI agents (who want to experiment upon her), loved ones (who want to be with her) and, most of all—cue the score’s mournful piano music!— herself.

As a portrait of a woman magically caught out of time, The Age of Adaline more than slightly resembles The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and director Krieger further emphasizes that connection by aping David Fincher’s style at virtually every turn. Alongside aerial views of San Francisco that mirror similar vistas from Zodiac, Krieger employs a bevy of slow, methodical Fincherian zooms, pans and tracking shots, all of them boasting a muted black-yellow-blue color palette seemingly modeled after both Benjamin Button and Gone Girl. The effect is to make the proceedings feel akin to a mannered photocopy—and to make Adaline’s canny mid-century business decision to take an investment gamble on Xerox come across like something of an ironic joke.

As embodied by Lively, Adaline is a pretty pouter who does little besides gaze longingly off into the distance, be it when working at the public library or having a meal with her grown-into-a-senior-citizen daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn), whose main narrative purpose is to add some creepiness by calling Lively “Mommy.” Lively cuts a striking figure in one ball gown after another, her blonde hair perfectly coiffed and set against one of her shoulders, but her performance is thoroughly one note. More troublesome, she shares no chemistry with co-star Michiel Huisman, whose rich philanthropist Ellis aggressively courts Adaline (who, for identity-hiding purposes, goes by the name Jenny) and, after winning her over, invites her to a party held at the country house of his parents.

There, Adaline meets Ellis’ dad William (Harrison Ford), who just so happens to be the same man she loved and then abandoned years earlier, right before he was going to propose. Despite such groaningly contrived circumstances, Ford is engaging and nuanced as a man forced to confront a past he assumed long gone. Yet no matter his compelling, quietly conflicted turn, The Age of Adaline’s phoniness renders emotional engagement impossible. From its egregious faux-literary narration (full of pseudoscientific facts meant to couch its make-believe in reality), to Huisman’s off-key good-guy routine, to its laughably insincere gray-hair-is-great finale, the story’s magic realism is so torpid and affected as to make the film feel as if it, like Adaline herself, goes on forever. 

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