I could have sworn about mid-way through The Age of Adaline that I’d accidentally wandered into a Nicholas Sparks film, and no, that’s not a compliment. It is, however, the only way to explain how a woman’s journey with immortality ended up being reduced to a series of romances instead of a series of timeless adventures.
Blake Lively’s titular Adaline is 29 when a strange, magical and oh-so-literal accident freezes her in time. When the men in suits (crisp, 1950s suits that usually mean suspense and drama) come for her, she goes on the run—beginning what should be an exhilarating journey through the world and modern history, finally from a woman’s point of view. And while apparently she has many adventures, all that is glossed over as a narrator booms out Adaline’s story rather than showing it, all to race to the present moment so that Adaline can meet Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman, Game of Thrones) at a party.
From that point on it’s a very Sparksian tale of star-crossed lovers, since Adaline’s got a secret to keep and Ellis is, well, hopelessly in love because he saw her reading Braille on the steps of the library (meeting men: I’ve been doing it wrong). While the movie makes a show of Adaline finding friends who can’t ever guess her secret, and meeting her daughter (Ellen Burstyn, The Stone Angel) for breakfast chats about retirement homes, Adaline’s quest to “really live” as handed to her by everyone centers around falling in love.
I’d be willing to accept that after nearly a hundred years of being on the run, global tourism might lose its appeal and simpler things—like really connecting with someone—might seem more and more appealing, or at least fulfilling if Adaline’s cohorts are anything to go by, but rather than playing out that journey and really getting into what it would mean to be immortal—however insatiable your taste for adventure might be—Lively is saddled with the rather boring task of looking perpetually sad. I can’t help but compare it to Tilda Swinton’s weighty performance as, of all things, a vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive, which at least gave her a chance to handle both loving someone and life.
Lively’s performance also suffers as a result. There are flashes where the spark of what makes Adaline so irresistible to her lovers gets to shine through, and when Lively also gets to come to life on camera, but these moments are rare. Instead, Adaline proves to be someone that hasn’t really adapted since her body stopped aging, wandering through a strange world dressed in a strange mixture of time periods and feeling constantly suppressed. So much so, that her odd moments of comfort just jar with the character instead of revealing more of her.
By the time the film winds its way to its master-twist, bringing Harrison Ford in for an almost nonsensical finale, it’s clear The Age of Adaline has less to do with Adaline’s age, her lifespan, or quite frankly anything to do with its lead. It’s yet another love story packed with unlikely coincidences, overwrought emotions and—most unforgivably—the slow march of a cute puppy through old age. It’s only redeeming moment might just be the film’s final (and predictable) scene, which I’m choosing to read as a celebration of aging naturally instead of a fairy tale ending.