Movie Review: The Age of Adaline (2015)
by Alan F. Zundel
“The Age of Adaline” is movie with a serious theme and an intriguing premise. It is the story of a woman who is afraid to love because she is afraid of loss, wrapped in a fantasy tale of a woman who stopped aging at age 29. It almost but not quite reaches the emotional depths it aims at, hindered by a flawed screenplay.
Adaline is first introduced to us as she meets with a forger to obtain false identity documents. Although the movie is set in 2014 and she looks young, we soon learn she was born in 1908 but stopped aging due to a freak accident. Adaline changes her identity every ten years to avoid becoming an object of official scrutiny, never becoming close to anyone except her daughter, who in present time is a woman well into her senior years.
Adaline meets a man named Ellis who pursues her despite her rebuffs. Her daughter convinces her to give Ellis a chance, arguing that Adaline is missing out on too much in life by avoiding romantic involvements. Adaline relents and she and Ellis become lovers, but she hides her secret from him and withholds information about her past. Her dilemma comes to a crisis when Ellis introduces her to his parents and Adaline realizes that Ellis’ father was a suitor she abandoned over forty years ago.
Beautifully photographed, capably acted, and directed with intelligence, “The Age of Adaline” should have been a much better movie. The primary problem is that the screenplay loses focus on the central theme and muddles the fantasy aspect of the plot with problems.
The emotional core of the story is the character development from a woman who loses a husband, to a woman avoiding involvements, to a woman who is changed by confronting the consequences of her avoidance. Adaline loses her husband before her accident, which would give emotional resonance to her later fear of becoming involved with anyone she will eventually lose due to her condition. Her agelessness would thus be a metaphor for her inability to move forward in life, learning to love and go on after her loss.
(Thinking a little more about it, it would have worked better if her husband had died in the same accident that left her ageless.)
Unfortunately that emotional core is obscured by numerous flaws in the screenplay. Her back story is rushed through in a few minutes, and we never feel the depth of the loss of her husband nor how her discovery that she cannot age affects her emotionally. Her abduction by men purporting to be from the FBI gives her a reason to fear revealing her secret, but a more relevant reason would have been more closely connected to how her condition impacted her relationships. For example, what happened when close friends and extended family members noticed she was not getting any older? Did they resent her? Withdraw from her? Shun her?
The fantasy plotline is also flawed. Too much emphasis is placed on giving a pseudo-scientific explanation for her condition, which just distracts from the metaphorical reason. (When a movie uses voice-over narration to explain things, you know the screenwriters are having trouble.) The FBI incident also leaves a lot of question: Are they really from the FBI? Why did they abduct her? What do they know about her? And most awkward of all, Adaline’s former relationship with Ellis’ father sets up all kinds of sticky family problems if Adaline and Ellis were to remain together.
There are other problems, such as extraneous characters with no role in the plot (Ellis’ sister), contradictory behaviors (Adaline avoids relationships with people because she cannot age with them but has no problem having pet dogs who age and die even faster), and character traits which seem on their introduction to be important to the plot but turn out not to be (Adaline’s Sherlock Holmes ability to infer things about people from small details). All of these point back to a screenplay which was not thought through very well.
Fortunately the cinematography and performances elevate the material enough to make watching the film a pleasant, if ultimately dissatisfying, experience. Blake Lively renders Adaline a fairly believable character, helping the audience become invested in her despite the unreality of her situation. Harrison Ford is particularly effective, his performance bringing a great deal of emotional complexity to the part of Ellis’ father. Michiel Huisman comports himself well in the unrewarding task of portraying Ellis, a romantic fantasy of a character if there ever was one: attractive, rich, generous, attentive, patient, forgiving—a thirty-something single man with no apparent flaws or baggage.
The film aims to be a romantic fantasy, revealing truths about romantic love through the device of a science-fiction plot, but in the end is more of a fantasy romance: two incredible attractive people in gorgeous settings going through a contrived plot. Those who enjoy romance novels will likely find this similarly enjoyable, but anyone seeking weightier fare should probably look elsewhere.