“The Age of Adaline”: a long-in-the-tooth romance

‘Enchanting’ music-box chimes, an extreme long shot of a spinning Earth, and third-person fairy tale narration in the opening scenes of The Age of Adaline, set the tone for this predictable but sweet film and its pre-packaged, “nice” ending.

For the past 80 years, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), has been immune to the ravages of time, staying firmly put at the age of 29. It all happened one dark and stormy night when she crashed her car into a lake, and the icy water made her heart stop, only for her to be jolted back to life two minutes later by a bolt of lightning. This incredible event stopped the clock for Adaline, while it continued to run for everyone else.

The first few minutes of the film show how Adaline eventually discovers her ‘condition’, as everyone around her, including her daughter continues to age, while she remains a walking advertisement for anti-wrinkle cream. When people start to notice and the FBI begins to ask questions, Adaline packs her things, and runs. She changes her identity every decade, amid the fear that she might become a science project. Adaline vows never to get close enough to anyone to slip up, and bar one short-lived romance in the 1960s, she sticks to her decision, only occasionally meeting up with her aging daughter, Flemming.

Fast-forward to present day… As Adaline prepares to take up a new identity (funded by an amazing amount of cash she certainly does not earn from her job as a librarian), a New Year’s Eve encounter with a handsome and romantic stranger changes everything. The rich philanthropist, Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), serendipitously jumps into an elevator with Adaline, who’s now called Jenny. Despite her resistance, Adaline/Jenny falls in love.

The first real complexity in the film appears when Jenny joins Ellis for a weekend at his parents’ home. There, Ellis’ father, William (Harrison Ford), is shocked to recognise the woman he fell in love with in the 60s, and whom he had planned to marry before she disappeared without a word. Jenny temporarily evades the truth by pretending Adaline Bowman was her mother, but over the weekend, both she and William struggle to contain decades of unexpressed heartbreak, while a confused Ellis and Mrs Jones stand by. It is only at this point, half way through the story, that the film begins to stir emotions.

For the most part, the two main characters lack complexity while Ford, as a supporting actor, is the one who manages to convey the “punch-to-the-gut” pain that is lost love. The ache etched on his face when he sees Adaline for the first time in 40 years, is brutal. Lively is much less moving for someone who has had to endure heartbreak for more than the allotted lifetime.

This is Lively’s first appearance on screen following the end of the popular TV-series Gossip Girl in 2012 and the rather dull dagga-thriller, Savages. Since then she’s been married, had a child, and launched the most annoying celebrity blog (sorry, lifestyle website), bar Gwyneth Paltrow discovery of the internet. The Age of Adaline is clearly Lively’s way of saying she’s back and that she has talent; she’s just not picked a film that’s taking her forward far enough.

The movie watches like the hands of an irregular clock: a bit rickety, but it keeps moving and, it’s wrapped up neatly and happily in a story book ending. Save this one for a Friday night in on the couch, rather than waste the price of a movie ticket. Not when you have other offerings, like Serena, on view.

Cast: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn

Director: Lee Toland Krieger

Rating: 3 out of 5

SA release date: 29 May 2015

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