Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard// Film Critic
This review originally ran on VeryAware.com
Depending on who you are, aging can be either a blessing or a curse. While I would love my body perfectly preserved as my 29-year-old self (an age most women don’t ever admit to being over), for the titular heroine at the center of THE AGE OF ADALINE, immortality is a total drag. At least she’s got a flawless wardrobe coasting from decade to decade. The glossy, high-concept romance excels where many Nicholas Sparks films have failed. This is probably going to be the best, most sparkling romance of the year. While it can be a tad messy with quite a few dots not totally connecting, the picture it paints is enchanting, exquisite and elegant – just like the ethereal heroine at the heart of this story.
When we first meet Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), she’s living under a fake name in San Francisco in “the last chapter of her life,” as said by the TWILIGHT ZONE-inspired narrator. Born in 1908, she lived a normal life until a freak set of circumstances and some sciencey stuff locked her body into a perpetual state of being 29 years old. Oh the horror – amirite, ladies?! Well, it actually is; she’s been on the run for decades, evading the law and government experiments. Her daughter Flemming (who doesn’t own a steakhouse and is played by Ellen Burstyn) is out-living her, with talk of moving into an senior living community. Her only real friends are Regan (Lynda Boyd), who’s literally and metaphorically blind, and Reese, Adaline’s sweet Cavalier King Spaniel that doubles as a manipulative metaphor. But when Adaline meets hunky, wealthy philanthropist Ellis (Michiel Huisman), her world is forever changed. Valuing self-preservation over love, she wisely resists, but when she inevitably relents, ghosts from her past become present – and threaten her happiness and new normal.
Romance is at an all time high here. and director Lee Toland Krieger, along with screenwriters J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz, don’t ever let you forget you’re in for some saccharine melodrama. It’s an interesting juxtaposition given Krieger’s last film was a perfect rom-com about a couple breaking up (CELESTE & JESSE FOREVER). I don’t want to say the clichéd phrase that “San Francisco is like a silent character,” but the way Krieger captures it, audiences can’t help but swoon. He adds a stylized eye and pure glamour into the mix – qualities the genre has surprisingly been lacking. Plus, there’s a good dose of levity that keeps things from getting too sappy.
Though romance plays a huge part, I would also contend THE AGE OF ADALINE has a lot of similarities with two other genres – spy and superhero. Think about it: she’s got numerous secret identities. She’s highly intelligent and is wealthy, thanks to a little FORREST GUMP-like twist. Her greatest enemies are the law and someone recognizing her (which begs the question, why was she so cavalier about returning to SF?). There are resurrections, just like in those Marvel movies y’all love (cough, cough CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and IRON MAN 3). And she keeps all her memories in one convenient location, a box of sadness – a.k.a. a steam trunk. Almost immediately, Krieger shows us how our heroine was able to elude authorities for years – with fake I.D.’s and being a keen read of people’s sloppy “tells.” He also shows that she’s worldly with her proficiency in a multitude of languages (though she’s never played Trivial Pursuit before. Really?!). She talks a good game, so it’s fun to find out what her “tell” will be the moment she lets her guard down.
Lively is truly at her best; she embodies every inch of being a glamorous, otherworldly movie star. She is really what makes this film’s heart beat and transcend its problems. Her chemistry with Huisman sizzles and scorches, making you root for their romance to succeed against all odds. Ford is the actual surprise here, given his lifeless presence in EXPENDABLES 3 and PARANOIA. He genuinely seems into the material and gives an electrifying performance.
The ironic takeaway of THE AGE OF ADALINE is that Hollywood would love to freeze time and have their leading ladies remain ageless for eternity. Functioning as a sly meta-comment on this town’s love for preserving things – through building renovations and plastic surgery – the smart drama will make you think twice about ever again wishing for eternal youth.
THE AGE OF ADALINE is available on Blu-ray, DVD and On-Demand today. Order here.
Gwen Reyes interviews Michiel Huisman: