Coiffed curls and matte lips, the heady warmth of violins and summer nights, twirling to the sound of a crooning voice – this is the faded glamor of the early 1900s, a glamour that we can now reimagine through the plot of Lee Toland Kreiger’s 2015 film “The Age of Adaline.”
A whirlwind of second chances, it is the story of a woman who is struck by lightning in 1935 and miraculously stops aging. The movie is set in San Francisco and depicts the life of main character Adaline (Blake Lively) as she constantly recalibrates her style and identity with the world’s.
With a husband long gone and few responsibilities, Adaline keeps her inability to age from everyone except daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn), who, in the movie’s 2014 setting, looks more like her mother’s grandmother than her daughter. Permanently nostalgic and afraid of discovery, Adaline works a quiet job in a library until one night a colleague drags her to a party where Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) notices her. He becomes enraptured with Adaline, and through Ellis’s pursuit of Adaline’s heart, the film becomes a romantic journey of self-discovery, exploring how it is that we can be alive for so long without ever truly living.
Lively is a dreamy lead and her accent has that sugary, airy lift on the end of each syllable that hints at old Hollywood refinement. She’s a modern mother and girlfriend trying to suppress her ties to yesterday. To the unsuspecting eye, she is a plausible millennial, but there is an etherealness about her that suggests otherwise. Strolling in wearing immaculate outfits and a heavy countenance, Lively acts the mysterious girl well.
Although at times this part bears great resemblance to Lively’s previous gig in hit TV series “Gossip Girl,” it’s not her fault that she could wear a burlap sack and still look lovely, and scenes featuring everything from mischief to melancholy prove that Lively has grown as an actress since her days as Serena van der Woodsen.
Meanwhile, Michiel Huisman, known for television appearances in “Nashville” and “Game of Thrones”, is a strong male counterpart. The film’s hero, he is a rugged, self-assured philanthropist not fazed by Adaline’s secrecy. His father, played by Harrison Ford, is equally as solid, both actors possessing complimentary personalities that are resilient and wise. Although Ford initially feels like a random choice, he is believable as a father for Ellis and adds A-list support to a relatively small cast.
Carrying the narrative along is more than cast chemistry. A soundtrack resounding with strings, jazz piano, and brass is reminiscent of Adaline’s origins, and the orchestra’s swells depict love and tension with ease.
The cinematography is breathtaking and juxtaposes past and present through jarring scenes of flashback intermixed with moments in 21st century California featuring iPhones and Trivial Pursuit. Black and white reels are even incorporated in such a way that the viewer can relate to the memories in Adaline’s mind.
Unfortunately, the film also includes a distracting male voice-over (Hugh Ross). Because Adaline is not telling her own story, something is necessary to progress the narrative forward, especially as the viewer learns of Adaline’s history, but Ross’ voice feels interruptive. Allowing Flemming (Burstyn) to narrate would make far more sense.
Still, “The Age of Adaline” deserves recognition for seamlessly uniting two distinct worlds in an effortless way. Edifying and uplifting, “Adaline” celebrates the art of letting go and living vibrantly.