REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media
Does the prospect of eternal youth sound appealing to you? “The Age of Adaline” is romantic fantasy, which explores whether eternal youth is a blessing or a burden.
Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) was born in San Francisco at 12:01 A.M. in 1908. Newspaper headlines trumpeted that she was the first local baby born in the New Year. It is the first of the many narrative digressions in “The Age of Adaline.”
Adaline’s early life was unremarkable. She grew up in an upper crust family and assiduously adhered to all the prevailing conventions of her social class. Adaline married an engineer, who also hailed from a prosperous family background. Soon, the couple had a child together.
While supervising the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, Adaline’s husband plunged from scaffolding. She was left a widow with a young child to raise.
Then, one night in 1937, Adaline was driving though a fluke snowstorm. She veered off the road and plunged into a frigid pond. While submerged, she was struck by lightning.
An omniscient narrator (Hugh Ross) advises us that somehow this confluence of circumstances triggered a rare physiological phenomenon in Adaline’s DNA. As a consequence, she becomes permanently frozen at her current age of twenty-nine. The narrator solemnly pronounces that Adaline is “immune to the ravages of time.” Is this a premise that makes any sense whatsoever? Who is the scientific consultant on this film, Bozo the Clown?
Over the years, people who know Adaline, are astonished by her preternaturally youthful appearance. Rather than reveal the truth, Adaline concocts various prevarications. She contends that it’s just her genes or some imported facial cream from Paris.
Adaline feels stigmatized by her condition. To avoid detection, she assumes a series of fake identities. However, she continues to sport an anachronistic hairstyle and wardrobe of a bygone era. Apparently, it never occurs to her that this affectation might draw the very attention that she is trying to avoid.
The film fast forwards to the present. Adaline has adopted the alias, “Jane Larson” and is working as a librarian at a local cultural heritage foundation.
At a New Year’s eve celebration, a handsome, young philanthropist, Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman from “Game of Thrones”), espies Adaline from across the dance floor. He is immediately smitten.
As Adaline departs the party, Ellis rushes after her. They share an awkward elevator ride together. During it, Adaline is insufferably aloof. This portends a sustained pattern of gratuitous unpleasantry, which Adaline exhibits towards Ellis.
Undaunted by Adaline’s overt disinterest, Ellis inexplicably continues to pursue her. How does Ellis finally win Adaline over? Noting that she is an inveterate bibliophile, he presents her with a literary bouquet of flowers. It consists of Henry James’ “Daisy Miller,” Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine,” and Janet Fitch’s “White Oleander.”
Does Adaline deign to tell Ellis that although she appears to be in her twenties, she is actually 107 years old? I’m not suggesting that Adaline has any moral obligation to reveal her condition to every stranger she meets. However, if you became romantically involved with someone and were actually generations older than you appeared, isn’t your paramour entitled to know the truth?
The situation becomes even more fraught. Ellis invites Adaline to meet his parents, William (Harrison Ford) and Connie (Kathy Baker), on the occasion of their fortieth wedding anniversary. Before his marriage, while William was in medical school, the two had been romantically involved. Adaline had concealed from William that she was in her sixties. William had been on the cusp of proposing to her. However, Adaline got cold feet and abruptly disappeared into the ether without any explanation.
When William encounters Adaline again, he is startled to see her. However, Adaline denies her true identity. She speciously insists that her name is Jane Larson. Adaline contends that she is the look-alike daughter of William’s erstwhile lover.
Now, Adaline is on the cusp of marrying the son of the man, who she used to sleep with. Are you skeeved out yet?
Do any of these funky perversions of the aging process sound subliminally familiar to you? “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” featured a reversal rather than the suspension of the normal aging process. In that film, the titular character, played by Brad Pitt, started out life as a senescent homunculus, then became progressively younger. When he reached his mid-twenties, he married a spouse of the same age (Cate Blanchett). Benjamin continued to grow progressively younger until he is a baby. Meanwhile, his wife became older. Eventually, she was encumbered with a husband, who is an infant. The film side-stepped the awkward question of when they ceased to function as a couple. Of course, I never understood why Benjy didn’t regress all the way to a pre-embryonic state.
The romantic formulation of “The Age of Adaline” is tortured. It should come as no surprise that one of this film’s screenwriters, J. Mills Goodloe, previously adapted the Nicholas Sparks’ novel, “The Best of Me.” The resulting film was execrable.
However, “The Age of Adaline” is worse than the clumsiest adaptation of a Sparks novel. Films derived from Sparks’ books are plagued with farfetched coincidences and mawkish sentimentality. However, his characters aren’t inherently repugnant. By contrast, the protagonist of “The Age of Adaline” is a deceitful, self-absorbed liar.
“The Age of Adaline” profiles a contemptible cougar.
*1/2 PG-13 (for some violence) 119 minutes. Lionsgate Films
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.