“Tell me something I can hold onto forever and never let go”
A high concept fantasy property such as The Age of Adaline could easily fall into trouble if it decided to put its focus on the mystery rather than the characters. J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz script deals with a woman who at twenty-nine was victim to an unexplained accident that left her unable to age. She wasn’t immortal or imperious to pain and injury; she simply would remain looking and being twenty-nine until something finally stopped her heart. It’s difficult to believe that a Hollywood studio wouldn’t try and force the film to deal with this impossibility through an adventure or fugitive hunt, but thankfully they didn’t. Instead of glorifying her gift, this tale is ultimately about the price paid for being unwittingly cursed.
Vampire fare has tackled this theme for decades, but that genre’s antiheros can pose their loves the opportunity to remain with them by turning. Adaline (Blake Lively) is without such an option because there’s no scientific cause for what’s happened (or at least not yet if we’re to believe the omniscient narration from Hugh Ross). No, this widowed mother discovered her affliction along with everyone else as the years piled on despite her excuse of a good diet proving less and less plausible. Soon her daughter Flemming (Cate Richardson) grew to appear as though they were sisters. The FBI came calling, arrest and/or experimentation was threatened, and the tough choice to leave everything behind presented itself as her only option. Her life became a prison all its own.
Does she therefore try finding a way to stop it? No. For some reason she gives that quest up after a year of research leaves her empty-handed and never starts again once technology advances. Does she seek an avenue in which she could become Adaline Bowman again after decades of false identities? No. Her secretive lives lived in ten-year chunks sustains her for now. She gets to travel to new places; work in libraries to read and learn history, languages, and meaningless pop culture trivia; and visit Flemming as each new woman until the present-day visually transforms daughter into “grandmother” (Ellen Burstyn). But having Flemming has been the key: a constant within her ever-shifting world. What happens when she passes? What will be left besides absolute solitude?
Enter the charming, rich, charitable, and borderline-creepy stalker Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman). If not for the last part I would have believed him as the “one” to make Adaline (now Jenny) rethink her strategy from the start. I still do see him as this person once they get to know one another, but I won’t deny being taken aback by how the relationship begins and how she ends up being the one to apologize for his being needy/clingy. I don’t blame Huisman, however. I blame the script and perhaps director Lee Toland Kreiger for not seeing the issue beneath this juxtaposition of Adaline’s distraught emotions after a close death and Ellis’ smarmy “no door will keep me locked out” mentality. Alas, romance blooms and the real film begins.
Yes, everything up until the point where Ellis invites Adaline to his parents’ (Harrison Ford‘s William and Kathy Baker‘s Kathy) home to celebrate their fortieth anniversary is exposition. It may be too long for some to slog through, but I found it a fascinating and crucial piece to learn all we need to learn in order to understand the lead character’s motivations. We must watch her remain Blake Lively while everyone else ages. We must watch her stroll down memory lane to piece together when relationships began and ended, discover why her best friend is blind (Lynda Boyd), and comprehend her transition from one identity to another. We need to know her life’s routine before we can accept that it can be forever altered by love.
The trailer gives a lot away so I don’t feel bad admitting Ellis’ father actually spent time with Adaline in the 1960s or how this revelation makes the family gathering awkward at best. What’s weird—I say as though it isn’t weird on its own—is that the ordeal isn’t more awkward. Not as far as William goes putting out fires with his wife or Ellis dealing with the fact his new girlfriend’s “mother” dated his father, but where Adaline is concerned herself. Talk about a trippy happenstance to have dinner with two men you’ve slept with—two men you loved/love unconditionally that literally were cut from the same cloth. She kind of takes it in stride for the most part until the reality of love’s pain returns.
In come astronomical metaphors, ideas of fate and destiny, and the human condition that forces us to fear happiness because of its potential to devastate. The whole not aging thing stays relegated to the background—a fairy tale premise left fantastical and unexplained through its disembodied delivery—so we can watch Adaline cope with the crossroads at which she finds herself. The idea of a happy ending or tragic one proves inconsequential because either would work in the context of this character being saddled by a burden she cannot control. We want her love with Ellis to sustain. We want her to admit who she is to William. We want Flemming to see her mother happy for once before her own impending demise. But life isn’t perfect.
Neither is the film, but at least it yearns to be impartial in its unavoidable sense of Hollywood convention. It’s all about Adaline and her amazingly sad life reaching a make-or-break point wherein there’s no turning back. Whatever happens with the magic is uncontrollable—only how she reacts is. And in this respect we eventually discover the brightest beacon of light to be Ford’s William, a man in the unique position to know everything and yet nothing. He must work through his feelings and memories fast to help or hinder Adaline’s fate and his empathetic struggle is real. Lively isn’t too shabby on the other end of those emotions either, her carefully cultivated detachment as defense mechanism gradually thawing with a newfound promise of hope.
 Michiel Huisman (“Ellis Jones”) and Blake Lively (“Adaline Bowman”) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s THE AGE OF ADALINE.
 Ellen Burstyn (“Flemming”) and Blake Lively (“Adaline Bowman”) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s THE AGE OF ADALINE.
 Harrison Ford (“William Jones”) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s THE AGE OF ADALINE.