A woman born in the opening decade of the 20th century (Blake Lively) has by the time she is aged 29 is a recent widow with a young daughter. When she is this age in the 1930’s she is involved in a motor accident which under normal circumstances would claim her life but due to a chance mixture of natural events, she not only survives but is destined to live as a 29 year-old forever.
In present-day San Francisco, Adaline (now operating under various pseudonyms) has adapted to her unique situation to live a prosperous, if emotionally empty, existence. She is unable by circumstance to settle in a job or with friends for long periods and is only able to see her elderly daughter (Ellen Burstyn) rarely. However things begin to change for Adaline when she develops a romantic relationship with philanthropist (Michael Huisman) which complicates things severely, especially when she meets his father (Harrison Ford) who she knew very well in the past…
For a film like this to even begin to work, it has to convince the viewer of its central premise and on that count it largely succeeds. A prime reason for this is the excellent performance of Lively who manages the difficult task of being convincing as a nearly 100 year-old woman in a 29 year-old’s body. She does this by always giving her character a refined, old-fashioned style through her speech and body language which makes her come across as much older than she actually looks. As well, she conveys the tragedy of her Twilight Zonesque life with convincing levels of emotion.
Lively is backed up by the rest of the experienced cast. I haven’t come across Dutch actor Huisman before (he’s done a lot of prominent TV and film work in the last few years) but he makes a fine impression here. Not only does he have good romantic chemistry with Lively, but he convincingly gives his character the levels of sophistication and tact required for someone like Adaline to risk her livelihood to get into a relationship with.
The film is also helped by with supporting performances from such experienced people as Ford, Burstyn and Kathy Baker. It was good to see Ford – who seems to have been sleepwalking through his films in recent years – give his most interesting performance in years.
Director Lee Toland Krieger’s previous was the interesting (if forgettable) ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’. This is a more ambitious film and a step up in quality from him. Krieger gives a film an elegant and smooth style which fits in well with the material. Notably, despite the majority of the film being set in present-day San Francisco, it still has an old-fashioned feel to it which compliments the central character and theme.
The film isn’t perfect. A brief segment where Adaline goes into hiding (and away from her daughter) in the early 1950s because of McCarthyist persecution is unconvincingly and clumsily inserted. And the film’s finale is contrived in multiple ways as if the filmmakers finally ran out of inspiration to keep the concept afloat and instead relied on easy solutions to resolve the film’s problems.
Above all else, this isn’t a film for everyone. There would undoubtedly be a fair segment of filmgoers who would find the whole concept ludicrous and be rolling their eyes every few minutes.
But personally speaking, in an era where romantic film seems to be code for turgid cinema, ‘The Age of Adaline’ is a graceful, charming movie.