“The Age of Adaline” tells us that being immortal isn’t entirely the joyride that one would imagine. Everyone you love and care about dies while you don’t. Trying to keep your immortality a secret also proves to be even more burdensome, as it involves numerous identity changes every now and then and you end relationships as soon as they begin. This is the life led by Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), as a mysterious car crash in the early 1900s prevents her from ever aging.
Decades pass by and Adaline doesn’t get a single grey hair, all the while her daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn) ages from a toddler to a young woman. When it seems like her secret may be forced into the open, Adaline goes into hiding, holding onto her past life only through her connection to Flemming. This ambulatory existence persists over a long period until she crosses paths with a man by the name of Ellis (Michiel Huisman) at a New Year’s Eve party in the present day, forcing her to reconsider her emotionally frugal life.
Lively’s commitment to the role cannot be questioned. She truly embodies the part of an ancient woman trapped in a body of a 28-year-old. Everything from her posture to her dialect is indicative of a woman that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the world. She gives traces of this feeling in much needed instances, without allowing it to overwhelm or making it seem like a blatant anomaly.
Her acting abilities shine through even more in her scenes with Burstyn, who plays her much older looking daughter. At a restaurant, the two discuss Adaline’s routine and mandatory relocation in order to protect her identity. There is essentially a role reversal here between mother and daughter, where each other’s responsibilities as caretaker and dependent have been swapped.
Just imagine talking about retirement homes with your mother, but the one considering the move is you, not her. In addition, it’s impressive to see Lively display a maturity beyond her age while Burstyn regresses to a more youthful state of mind. The other actors should not be forgotten. Huisman plays the part of a prince charming the only way one should, and Harrison Ford delivers a great a performance in his supporting role as William Jones.
On the topic of the filming, the cinematography has to be lauded. The choice of shots establishing locations and the characters’ perspectives was done with beautiful precision. A particular point to be noticed is the director’s knack for symmetry. Whether it’s a bird’s eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge or a simple walk down a hallway by Adaline, the camera is always at the right place, making sure the spotlight is on the subject that truly required it.
Further bolstering the movie were the score and the sound effects. Rob Simonsen’s music fit in perfectly with the visuals and the film’s theme, striking a balance between romantic and operatic. However, the standout amongst the auditory elements was the sound effects. The prime example was during the car crash sequence, which allowed Adaline to halt the aging process. The audience is taken straight into the interior of the vehicle as the collision occurs, and the viewers’ hearing takes a pounding similar to the ones taken by Adaline’s body, striking an erratic pattern that assaults one eardrum before moving onto the next. The horrifying nature of the incident was not lost one bit.
The film, however, wasn’t devoid of flaws. The most questionable component would have to be the use of narration, which tended to act like a live, DVD commentary during the beginning and end of the movie. A low, pronounced voice chronicles the early life of Adaline and the events that lead to her death-defying transformation. Unusually, the narration includes a substantial amount of scientific jargon, and it’s hard not to feel like one’s watching the Discovery Channel on a Sunday night. The creative team seemed intent on holding the viewer’s hand and guiding them through, rather than allowing the viewer to make judgments on their own.
Other questionable decisions could be aimed at the marketing department, for including a major plot turnaround in the movie trailer. Heading into the theater without any inkling of the plot would do a service to the oblivious audience member.
Despite its minor flaws, “The Age of Adaline” succeeds by shunning the label of a “chick flick” and taking on a more interesting genre hybrid of drama, romance and science fiction. Besides constructing a love story around an interesting premise, the film makes a statement about today’s prevalent culture as well. What better way to question people’s obsession with preserving youth than by having a film display the sorrow and torment of not getting older?