It can hardly be considered a bad thing to deliver a bit of the Old Hollywood Style to a contemporary audience (except for style reflecting the gallingly open racism of the time, of course). In fact, it can be downright invigorating. The Age of Adaline offers a tantalizing glimpse of that Golden Age magic—largely, the type that leaned entirely upon its stars’ blinding wattage to draw an audience, rather than the epileptic succession of CGI-drenched cuts that characterizes the blockbuster model of today. And what a throwback pleasure director Lee Toland Krieger’s (Celeste and Jesse Forever) latest would have been, if it weren’t so exasperatingly unfocused.
Following the death of her husband, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) miraculously survives a car crash into frozen waters, jolted back to life by a stray lightning strike. Thanks to the Rod Serling-y narration (Hugh Ross), the audience is plainly informed of the unlikely effect and the pseudo-science-y reason Adaline is from then on an un-aging beauty. Learning that her condition has made her a target for curious and sinister government-types, she determines that keeping her attachments light and her identity fluid is the best way to protect herself and her daughter (who’s portrayed in multiple life stages, but primarily by the great Ellen Burstyn later in her life). Oh, if only poor Adaline could let the light of love into her life…!
Resigned to blow past the (potentially) far more interesting story of a forever-young mom and her regularly aging daughter, Krieger (and writers J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz) chooses to concentrate on the one romance that would end Adaline’s eight decades of life on the semi-lam, which would have been far less disappointing were the romance not less believable than the Twilight Zone bookendings. It’s hard to know whether the lion’s share of blame should fall upon the screenplay, the casting of Game of Thrones actor Michiel Huisman or Huisman’s own grating portrayal of beau Ellis—who, the movie makes sure you know in a meet-cute that (like Adaline’s youth and the film itself) seemingly never ends, is a wealthy philanthropist, in addition to looking like a rakish pirate ripped from the illustrated cover of a Harlequin romance serial. He’s part Nate Silver math wizard, part crunchy, local-sourcing hipster full of manufactured quirk. He also can’t take “no” for an answer, with the prevailing attitude of the film playing off his borderline-stalker behavior as adorable persistence.
Ellis’s supposed charm squares off so lopsidedly against Lively’s radiant Rita Hayworth-channeling performance, one has to question whether or not this onscreen couple had ever been screen-tested. By the time Ellis’s father, William (Harrison Ford), enters the story (running perilously over the hour-fifteen mark), even a Hollywood icon can do only so much to bring a desperately needed counter-balance to the proceedings. His character ties into Adaline’s past, in another incredible coincidence! (Some narration would sure help there. Take it away, Rod Serling.)
While Adaline absolutely succeeds as a highlight reel regarding the talent of its titular character’s actress, it’s important to remember that a star’s legacy survives as the sum of their roles. Sure, Rita Hayworth and Joan Crawford saw their fair share of celluloid waste, too, and Star Power can indeed generate a lot of heat—but the ingredients need to be worth cooking. Maybe there is, in fact, something inherently valuable in producing a sincere effort of escapism, to transport the audience to a different, less cynical, arguably “better” time. But when the audience is collectively checking their watches, it’s probably not a good sign.
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writers: J. Mills Goodloe, Salvador Paskowitz
Starring: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn
Release Date: April 24, 2015 (Limited)