This weekend, I went to see The Age of Adaline. I was quite looking forward to it. Firstly the premise seemed imaginative and I’m generally quite interested in the ‘Peter Pan’ themes around age. As we saw with the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, film has an amazing potential to bring these types of narratives to life, whether using clever prosthetic effects and make up, or simply editing choices that present a non-linear structure of time. Also, as a fan of TV’s Gossip Girl, I was also interested to see how Blake Lively performed in her biggest and most challenging film role to date.
My overall impression is that the story lived up to expectations. It’s a small, charming story, with fairy tale qualities, that tells us about the extraordinary life of Adaline Bowman (played by Lively) who stops ageing at 29, owing to a yet-to-be-discovered genetic adaptation that follows a car accident. Both fantastical and everyday at the same time, the story has a touch of magic, of cosmic wonder, of all-out glamour, all incredibly charming but at the same time also very human.
The film opens with an omniscient narrator guiding us through the opening chapter of Adaline’s life, up to the moment she ceases to age (hopefully this isn’t too much of a spoiler, it’s announced in all the trailers). The narrator is a very welcome presence, giving the film a folklore feel, which works especially well to harness the cosmic aspects that run parallel to Adaline’s experiences. This is a technique I’ve seen used a few times to great effect, most recently in The Book Thief, as well as Stardust. He also helps to keep the frequent shifts in time on track and away from feeling excessively like montage.
The jumping timeframes, which range from flashbacks, memories and newsreels, give the film a visual and textural richness that offers lots of opportunity for style, which the costume department have taken full advantage of. The designers have clearly had a lot of fun with the opportunities presented by the different decades. As you would expect, given Blake Lively’s associations with some of the biggest names in the fashion and beauty industries, fashion plays a huge role throughout and she seems an obvious casting choice. (As a side note, I am now hunting for a full length, burgundy velvet number I never knew I wanted).
The glamourous styling also comes through the set, there are some lovely romantic scenes in an old galaxy lit drive-in cinema, alongside a visit to 1950’s suburbia and 1960’s countryside, contrasted nicely with the busy streets of present day San Francisco. The design is possibly the greatest strength of the film, it’s celebratory and overblown, wonderful to watch as it feeds beautifully into some of the narrative strands.
Blake Lively puts in a strong performance, convincingly showing us an old soul in within the 29 year old body of her character and carrying the part with a slow and subtle grace. The only times that this seems to fall short is when she shares the screen with her aging daughter Flemming, played by Ellen Burstyn, whose maturity and experience give her performance a gravitas that show Lively’s youth by comparison. Given the demands of the role, it’s a surprising and impressive effort from a young actor making a transition from TV to leading film roles.
The film runs at 112 minutes, which, not quite having the attention span to sit enthralled through three hour long films, normally I would praise. In this case, I’m not sure that they have used those minutes to the best effect and there is more drama to be found elsewhere in the story. For instance, there are two scenes towards the end (one with Harrison Ford and the other with Michiel Huisman, both of whom play love interests of Adaline’s) that could and should be moments of huge confrontation about her lies. Neither of these happen. I’d like to see more of the romance with Ellis (Huisman) so we get a greater sense of buildup, and there is also more than eighty years of Adaline’s history that we don’t much see, which leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It feels like a lot has been sacrificed for the sake of a long setup and a tidy ending. The pace throughout could probably have been tightened up so that we could have a little bit more tension and drama during the interim.
That said, I did enjoy it and it feels like an original storytelling that for the most part succeeds. Although the ending predictably returns to the cycle and seems old fashioned, it unrepentantly celebrates that tradition and I enjoyed the simplicity of it, despite some very cheesy clichés.
It was an interesting take on the themes and had great visual style. I’d watch it again, if only for the clothes.