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Ford Sparks Otherwise Sputtering Age of Adaline

Ford Sparks Otherwise Sputtering <i>Age of Adaline</i>

DVD Release Date: September 8, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: April 24, 2015
Rating: PG-13 (for a suggestive comment)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 110 min.
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Cast: Blake Lively, Harrison Ford, Michiel Huisman, Kathy Baker, Ellen Burstyn

It takes 70 minutes for Harrison Ford to show up in The Age of Adaline—a very long 70 minutes during which little in the film works well. But the presence of the veteran actor brings an instant gravitas and credibility to a film sorely lacking in both to that point. His arrival turns a meandering story into something fitfully memorable and oddly moving, despite a major missing piece at the center of the story.

Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively, Green Lantern) suffers from a strange affliction. Born in the early 20th century, she gives birth to a daughter, Flemming, but is soon widowed. Then she nearly dies when a traffic accident sends her into freezing water and stops her heart. However, Adaline is resuscitated by a lightning strike that defibrillates her heart and, mysteriously, stops the aging process. Henceforth, Adaline will remain 29 years old.

She vows to "never to speak of her fate to another soul.” The only exception is Adaline’s daughter, Flemming, who will grow old while Adaline stays a perpetual 29 (the daughter is played, as a woman in her 80s, by Ellen Burstyn (Interstellar)). The decision to never tell another soul about her condition means Adaline can't have a meaningful relationship with a man. She's stuck with the memories of her husband and other romantic involvements that predate her accident. On top of that isolation, she periodically takes on a new name and identity (she's "Jennifer Larson" during most of the film) to duck the FBI, which has taken an interest in Adaline and her condition.

What sounds, at heart, like a premise for exploring any number of intriguing ideas instead runs aground as Adaline encounters Ellis (Michiel Huisman, Wild), a philanthropist who pursues her romantically. Unfortunately, Ellis's persistent efforts to win Adaline are less charming, more annoying, given her lack of interest in him. Can't the guy take a hint? On top of that, Ellis simply isn't compelling enough as a character to make us believe he could cause Adaline to break the vow of silence about her condition. He's decent but dull, mitigating the necessary emotional impact the film needs at its core. You know a film is in trouble when Adaline's decision to put her dog down elicits a more emotional response than any potential romance with Ellis.

More interesting is Ellis's dad, William (Ford, 42), whose memories of a past romance resurface when Ellis introduces "Jenny" to his parents. William, believing Adaline has answers to a mystery that plagued him decades earlier, risks incurring the wrath of his wife (Kathy Baker, Saving Mr. Banks) and son as he presses Adaline for the truth.

While seeing an aged Ford pursue a much younger woman can be uncomfortable (doesn't Hollywood just love to let much older men get romantic with much younger women?) the story's circumstances are unusual enough, and William's desperation convincing enough, to heighten interest whenever William is the story's focus. It's a compelling performance from a veteran actor who shows real emotion as he struggles with suddenly rekindled romantic feelings despite four decades of a happy marriage to a loving wife.

The portion of The Age of Adaline focusing on William suggests the major theme is that of buried secrets and how we deal with difficult truths once they can no longer be ignored. But screenwriters J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz don't trust the audience to ponder that provocative idea. Instead, they steer their story back to the fate of Adaline's romance with Eillis.

The resolution to Adaline's struggle—should she share her secret with Ellis?—isn't completely uninteresting. If it were, the film's conclusion wouldn't be as partially effective as it is. But it's a comedown after the much more interesting section focusing on Adaline and William.

That makes The Age of Adaline a near-miss. While Lively is good in the lead role, Huisman is in no way her equal, and that imbalance blunts the emotional impact of the story's conclusion. Beautifully shot, the film is never less than easy on the eyes, but its central romance needed a bolt of lightning to bring The Age of Adaline fully to life.  

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; "one hell of a joke"
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Several scenes of wine drinking
  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing; Adaline and Ellis are shown waking up in bed, covered by a sheet, after a night of implied sex; Ellis's sister asks Adaline, "Have you done him yet?"; she knees him in the midsection; Ellis gets out of the shower, with a towel around his waist
  • Violence/Crime: Mention of a man who died building the Golden Gate Bridge; a car crashes and lands in freezing water; a decision has to be made about whether or not to put a dog down
  • Marriage: Ellis's father is forced to confess a past relationship to his wife; at his 40th wedding anniversary celebration, Ellis's dad says his greatest ambition was to be the best possible husband he could be

Publication date: April 23, 2015