2015, USA, 112 min.
Old age is frequently viewed as a flaw, as if those over 45 are incapable of enjoying life because they’re too slow, too jaded, too everything. The Age of Adaline scoffs at that notion. This charming, romantic fable doesn’t venerate youth, even though its title character has been a beautiful young woman for nearly 80 years.
Due to a scientific hiccup after a car accident, the title character (Blake Lively) is immune to the ravages of time. She looks 29 when she emerges from a car accident in 1937, and she looks 29 in 2015 when she’s chronologically 107. It is not a wonderful life. Every decade she changes her name and relocates to stay one step ahead of the curious. Adaline is too busy constantly rebuilding a life to have a meaningful one of her own. Connections? Please. Her photo album is filled with photos of her dogs. Even Adaline’s friendships appear calculated: her best friend is blind.
Adaline, now named Jenny, is set to move again when she meets Ellis (Michiel Huisman), a hunky philanthropist who is hopelessly smitten. He’s persistent but charming and patient. It’s understandable why Adaline succumbs. More importantly, we understand why Ellis is enchanted: he wants to pierce the aura. Director Lee Toland Krieger and his writers frame Adaline in her own mystique. Her clothes don’t mark her of this time. She speaks in a cadence that’s a notch or two below a heroine in a screwball comedy.
Lively’s limitations as an actress benefit the movie. The role requires an obvious façade, and Lively’s delicate, almost immovable beauty doubles as a mask to hide years of pain. We don’t blame Ellis for wanting to dig deeper. So do we. We don’t know Adaline. Why should we? She’s never gotten a chance to know herself. That’s going to change. Adaline tells her daughter (Ellen Burstyn) that she’s ready to live. Adaline commits to Ellis, even spending a weekend with his family. Immediately, Adaline is at risk. She knew Ellis’ father (Harrison Ford) in one of her past lives, and he has not forgotten her.
This is the movie’s best stretch, and Ford, who is engaged for the first time in who knows how long, carries it. He conveys every emotional ache in his action: a jittery pour of booze, his frazzled reaction in meeting “Jenny.” You see him putting the pieces together in every scene. The past has literally come to his doorstep, forcing Adaline to make another in a life full of tough decisions.
The Age of Adaline isn’t about lovers in turmoil or a chronological quirk. It’s really about the beauty of getting older. We learn to let people in and let emotions out. We embrace who we are. That’s something you learn as you age, which is why Adaline struggles. She has perspective but nowhere to take it. We watch in the hope that Adaline gains what we already have—and if she finds love along the way, even better.