The Age of Adaline is an old-fashioned romance – in every sense of the word. There’s a love story, of course, but also adventure and the two weave together in unexpectedly delightful ways.
Adaline Bowman was 1906’s New Year’s baby. When she was twenty-nine, a confluence of events made her immortal. She married, had a daughter and was widowed by the end of World War II and narrowly avoided becoming a lab specimen. For decades, she moved and changed her identity every ten years. Then, she met Ellis.
Most of the time, narration can unmake a great movie (watch the theatrical and director’s cuts of Blade Runner). For The Age of Adaline, it works perfectly because it’s only used when absolutely necessary – as when it fills in Adaline’s backstory over the opening sequences: setting the stage; explaining the quasi-scientific reasoning for why she became immortal, and one or two other moments over the course of the film.
By the time the story really begins, Adaline (Blake Lively) is living in New York and working as a librarian named Jennifer Larson – and planning her next move, this time to a farm in Oregon. When she attends a classy New Year’s Eve party with a blind friend, she meets Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman, Game of Thrones) – a charming fellow who seems determined to persuade her to go out with hum.
It takes some work on his part, but go out with him she does – and finds herself falling in love for the first time in (almost) forever. Despite her best efforts, he reciprocates in kind. Eventually, she agrees to go to a party celebrating his parents’ fortieth anniversary.
His father, William (Harrison Ford), recognizes her immediately – though he accepts her explanation that the woman he fell in love with in the sixties was her mother. His enthusiastic regard for the Adaline he knew causes his wife, Kathy (Kathy Baker), to wonder if she was his second choice and gets a wee bit jealous.
The Age of Adaline is a sweeping romance that could have been in the forties – it’s sleek, stylish and knowing without being precious or saccharine. The script, by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz, is genuinely clever and witty – it takes a ludicrous premise and makes us believe it.
Director Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste & Jesse Forever) never allows the film to go over the top – he keeps the ludicrous premise firmly grounded and elicits an especially fine performance from Lively.
Lively delights as the 107-year old Adaline – very much a woman of her generation’s time who kept up with her changing world without giving up her self. She maintains the posture and carriage of a person who was schooled in etiquette in the twenties and thirties; dresses in styles that are basically modern tweaks of styles from her youth, and seems simultaneously open and guarded.
She has succeeded in remaining off the radar of those who might be interested in her unique life by paying attention to detail – when she purchased new IDs in the opening act, she suggests to her forger that what he’s doing is both illegal and an obvious waste of his talent as well as pointing out details he has overlooked that might cause him problems in the future. By the end of the scene we know who Adaline is – and we’re hooked.
Huisman is equally adept as Ellis – a firmly polite and determined fellow who made a fortune in software and lives the life he finds most interesting. He might not be quite as properly schooled as Adaline, but he is a gentleman – and, scruffy beard and all, devilishly good-looking. He makes us believe that, maybe this time, Adaline might finally stop running.
Ford gives his best performance in many years as William. His stricken expression when he sees Adaline for the first time in fifty years; his frenzy when he tries to find the only photo ever taken with him and Adaline; his toast to his wife at the anniversary party – every second onscreen, Ford adds reality and grounding to the movie. He also makes us believe that William is Ellis’ father.
As Adaline’s grown daughter, Flemming, Ellen Burstyn is also a delight. It’s weird seeing her call Lively ‘Mom,’ but equally weird to see Lively in maternal mode – but both are so natural, it just works.
Special mention should be made of Anthony Ingruber, whose video impression of Harrison Ford as Han Solo played a key part is his getting the role of young William. First, he’s looks a great deal like the young Harrison Ford, and second, he sounds a great deal like the younger Ford – and he can act. Young William is a small role, but Ingruber handles it with panache. We could yet see him as the young Han Solo if the right people see this (or that video!).
It seems every generation has its own sweeping romance, from Gone With The Wind to Ghost; From The Princess Bride to Romancing the Stone; from Ghost to The Notebook. The Age of Adaline could turn out to be the one for this generation.
Final Grade: A