Review: 'The Age of Adeline' is gorgeous but also a complete mess

Posted by · 1:45 pm · April 17th, 2015

Nothing is more frustrating than watching a film with so much potential make one disastrous mistake after another. That, sadly, is the disappointing reality of Lee Toland Kreiger's “The Age of Adaline.”

The movie's premise is easy to grasp: 29-year-old Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) was born at the turn of the century, but after a strange car accident in the 1930's she discovers she will not age a single day more.  Decades pass as her daughter ages beyond her, and she begins taking false identities to avoid being discovered by the press or, worse, government agents who might have suspicions about her status.  The latter might also want to make her a guinea pig to discover why she's become immortal (a story tangent the film quickly abandons).

By 2014, Bowman seems resigned to a life of loneliness until Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman of “Game of Thrones”) spots her across the room at a New Year's Eve party, sparking a romance between them.  Having spent decades in fear of outliving a potential lover, Adaline seems willing to finally break that vow the charming Ellis, especially as she realizes her only surviving relative, her daughter (Ellen Burstyn) won't be around much longer.  Things get complicated, however, when Adaline is introduced to Ellis' father William (Harrison Ford) and our heroine seems headed for something of a tailspin.  The problem is: will anyone care?

Krieger, who earned strong notices helping 2012's “Celeste & Jesse,” is a talent. The look of “Adaline” is simply gorgeous.  In fact, “Adaline” may be the most beautiful film Lionsgate has released since 2005's “Rize” and “High Tension.”  The movie is a love letter to San Francisco thanks to cinematographer David Lanzenberg and production designer Claude Paré (the best work of his career).  It features a beautiful score by Rob Simonson (“Foxcatcher”) and the superb costumes mark something of a comeback for Oscar-winner Angus Strathie (“Moulin Rouge”).  Unfortunately, the script and casting can't live up to the beautiful world Kreiger has assembled for this fairy tale.

“Adaline's” biggest mistake is it does not trust its audience enough.  The original screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz begins with 20 minutes of non-stop narration (it may be shorter, but it felt that long).  The effect is you no longer feel you're watching a movie, but some sort of news report (it's supposed to be Adaline remembering her life while watching an old news reel).  This might have worked for a shorter stretch, but it immediately rips you out of the film.  The same narrator is used to explain what is happening during the incident that prolongs Adaline's life. The reasoning here references something so out of left field that it instantly sucks any potential magic or suspension of disbelief from the proceedings.  Clearly, this is a piece that worked better on the page than on the screen.

The movie's second major problem is the casting of Huisman.  The Dutch actor's American accent is so inconsistent you'll wonder why they didn't have him re-dub a majority of his lines. Or, is this the best they could with his re-recordings? Huisman has shown flashes on “Thrones,” but he has so little chemistry with Lively that you have no clue why Adaline and Ellis are a match made in heaven.  This is even more apparent by Lively's flashback scenes with an actor who plays one of Adaline's previous heartbreaks, the relatively unknown Anthony Ingruber.  

There are other odd choices along the way. For insistence, the fact that Adaline would speak as though she was from the Victorian era or utter phrases only people from the 40s would say diminishes her credibility as a character.  If Adaline had lived for so many decades, she, like most of us, would consciously or subconsciously modify her vocabulary over time.  If she truly spoke as though she was stuck in time it would be hard for her to maintain any sort of cover or privacy.

Outside of her odd speaking manner, at times, Lively is actually quite good at conveying Adaline's wisdom, pain and sophistication. She's shined brighter (most notably in Oliver Stone's “Savages”), but she has to carry much of this film on her back and comes close to succeeding at times.

One of the most disheartening aspects of the movie is how it completely wastes a stellar performance by Ford.  There is one particular moment towards the end of the film where Ellis introduces William to Adaline.  Ford hasn't been as good as he is in this scene in at least two decades.  It's a stark reminder of powerful he can be with the right material and in the right context.  If only the rest of the movie could live up to that magic.

“The Age of Adaline” opens nationwide on Friday.

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