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Movie Review: The Age of Adaline

Beautifully shot, The Age of Adaline fails as much as it succeeds.

Review by Matt Cummings

Time travel and love seem to be inexorably intertwined, portrayed with varying levels of success. From Superman's attempt to save Lois Lane by spinning the world backwards to roll back time, to the Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour drama Somewhere in Time, the subgenre hasn't gotten it quite right. And while beautifully shot and (mostly) well-acted, The Age of Adaline suffers from too many structural issues to recommend beyond a matinee dinner date.

When a young woman (Blake Lively) crashes her car during an unexpected snowstorm, she is imbued with immortality, making her a witness to the events of the 20th Century. But immortality has also been a fierce trap: forced to move every decade to escape suspicion, Adaline can never settle down for fear that the government will find her. But a chance meeting on New Years Eve with the wealthy Ellis (Michiel Huissman) leads Adaline down a potentially dangerous road. You see, Ellis' father (Harrison Ford) harbors a dark secret that involves Adaline and is only revealed when the trio gather so that Ellis can introduce her to his parents. As she tries desperately to balance her new love with the ghosts of her past, Adaline must decide to either run or brave her new world before fate intervenes.

Lively more than holds her own here, maturing from cold and practiced immortal to a loving woman who realizes it's never too late to fall in love. It's great to see her dress up and defeat everyone with a grace that modern women simply don't have - this is due entirely to her circumstances, but Lively sways her hips through the decades with perfect suavity. She portrays Adaline with a quiet sadness: never get too close, for fate (or the law) is soon to step in. Director Lee Toland Keiger and Cinematographer David Lazenberg wrap the viewer in a sumptuous world of history, from elegant clothes to even fancier environments. They even choose to shoot various era in different filters, gifting this universe with even more substance. But Keiger also demonstrates his acumen by getting the most out of his leads (some of which is frankly asking for a lot) and painting a world that Adaline continues to pass by as a quiet observer of history. It's fascinating universe-building stuff left mostly for Science-Fiction and superhero films.

I've been saying for since 2011 that Harrison Ford has returned to his old form, and in Age he turns in his best performance since perhaps Air Force One. That person who made so many dull films in the 1990's/2000's seems replaced with this much better one, and here his character struggles with truly amazing revelations. Ford delivers a perfect mix of shock, disbelief, and scientific curiosity as Adaline lights a fire under his marriage that only he can put out. It's nice to see his return isn't limited to reacting to explosions.

And yet for all its attributes, Age suffers just as equally in a few important areas. Considering all of the bigger issues it tries desperately to address, Huisman's performance feels like a giddy 12-year-old who's just seen his first naked woman. As Ellis, he's totally unprepared for Lively's quick wit; as an actor, Huisman is oddly-cast as a bearded (and much weaker) version of Eric Bana or Shia LaBeoff. Scenes with him drop like a rock, while those between Lively and Ford are some of the best I've seen all year. The stolid narration of Hugh Ross is totally unnecessary, almost adding a (non-intentioned) comedic element where none should exist.

Writers J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz are front and center for both blame and praise. At one end, the story features sharp dialogue that easily acclimates the audience to Adaline's world, making her into a sympathetic figure by pitting her against two loves, neither of which she thought she ever deserved. And therein lies the problem: by the time we get to the finale, Adaline has been written into such a corner that only one option remains to get her out. And without giving it away, that end can be seen a mile away. In fact the story is so predictable throughout Act 3 that's hard not to laugh at how proficient you can become at spotting all of them. A far better solution would have been to place Ford's marriage at the center of the story, allowing he and Lively to duke it out before ultimately agreeing to go their separate ways. What we get instead is well-meaning, somewhat powerful performances that needed another strong male lead to bring home the bacon.

In the end, The Age of Adaline fails for as many reasons as it succeeds. Ford delivers another terrific performance, proving that he's fully back to his Star Wars greatness. Lively more than holds her own, but the same cannot be said for the out-of-place Huisman and the preposterous story/ridiculous conclusion. By the time it's done, we have yet another example of an age-old truth about film: it takes a lot of moving parts to make one special. Here, there's too many misfires to make it anything other than pedestrian.

The Age of Adaline is Rated PG-13 for a suggestive comment and has a runtime of 110 minutes. Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Thomas Watson said…
The plot wasn't really good but The Age of Adaline is gorgeous on a visual basis.

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