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“The Age of Adaline” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

adaline

Every now and then, a film comes along that conveys a certain magical quality to its audience. From “Ghost” to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” you know it right away when you see it. It’s the romantic fantasy. Those films are prime examples and transcend the genre. Movies such as last year’s “A Winter’s Tale,” do not. But here’s the tricky part. The trailer for that film disguised it well enough as something promising, that I was actually surprised when I realized how awful it truly was. The fanfare that surrounded the advertising campaign for “The Age of Adaline,” a potentially-dazzling film about a beautiful woman who never ages, raised similar questions. Since when did Nicholas Sparks take the plunge into elegant fantasies? What is she, a vampire? All joking aside, I have to admit that it did manage to exceed my expectations, even though it’s not quite ready for classic status.

Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) was born in the year 1908. She grew up in the era of speakeasies and flapper-dancers. She also evidently lived through the Great Depression, although you certainly wouldn’t know it from here. (Can you imagine Blake Lively in a soup kitchen?) She was a red-blooded, all-American, young widowed mother who, on one fateful day in 1937, nearly drowned following an automobile accident. For all intents and purposes, she did in fact die – from Hypothermia. But, thanks to a re-animation explanation that would make Mary Shelley blush, Adaline regained consciousness and recovered from this event with no long-term damage. Actually, it was quite the opposite. A few years later, Adaline is still leading a normal life, yet it becomes apparent that something is amiss. At the age of 45, Adaline still doesn’t look a day over 29. Due to the sheer awkwardness of this lifestyle (not to mention suspicious policemen at routine traffic stops), Adaline says goodbye to her daughter and decides to leave the town she grew up in, and assume a new identity. But she can only stay in one place for a few years at a time, or people will become suspicious.

Fast forward to present day and Adaline is actually 108 years old. Known as “Jenny,” she works at a library and meets a very charming man, Ellis (Michiel Huisman). There is an instant attraction between the two, but Jenny is initially reserved towards him. After his persistent pursuit, our heroine decides to have dinner with him. Before you know it, things become serious between the two and Adaline’s daughter Flemming (Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn) advises her mother to quit running and give life a chance, which certainly is easier said than done. Nevertheless, Jenny and Ellis are in love, so naturally the next stop is to meet the parents. Upon a visit to their home for their 40th wedding anniversary, Ellis’ father, William (Harrison Ford), recognizes Adaline right away and is spellbound by the sight of his former lover, much to the chagrin of his wife, Kathy (Kathy Baker). It’s their anniversary, after all! Of course, “Jenny” explains that Adaline was her mother, which satisfies everyone except for William, who isn’t so sure. Adaline then must make the decision whether to stay with the man she loves (Ellis, not William) and risk her secret, or leave and start another life from scratch.

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This film does have its share of pros and cons. The story is indeed captivating, and I felt there was genuine chemistry between the two leads. The romance between Jenny and Ellis was spot-on…to a certain point. It seems that all of the charisma and appeal of the character of Ellis vanishes in the blink of an eye, once Harrison Ford is introduced. Don’t get me wrong, the narrative appeal of a father and son both loving the same, ageless woman at different periods in their respective lives does work, and it’s compelling. However, by that time, the director appears to almost forget that Huisman is the romantic lead, and spends way too much time on William’s reactions to Adaline, and thus, Ford’s interactions with Lively. But you can’t fault Harrison Ford for that, his screen presence is staggering. Also, there was a terribly misguided, ill-advised narration that drops in on certain key scenes in the film. It adds nothing to the story and needlessly spoon-feeds the audience, as if it weren’t capable of deciphering Adaline’s life-changing event on its own. The only way that the narration could have possibly worked, was if Adaline herself was narrating her life’s special moments, a la “Forrest Gump.”

“The Age of Adaline” was directed by Lee Toland Krieger, whose credits include “The Vicious Kind,” which won best feature at the 2009 New Orleans Film Festival, and 2012’s “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” He certainly has a knack at bringing out the best performance possible from the actresses that he works with; just ask Brittany Snow or Rashida Jones. As for Blake Lively, she certainly has found the role of a lifetime and gracefully gives her best performance to date. Overall, ‘The Age of Adaline” is a pleasantly enjoyable romantic fable, as long as you don’t scratch the surface too hard.

** (two out of four stars)

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