The Age of Adaline is a ludicrous romantic fantasy, but solid craftsmanship and good acting make it an enjoyable one too.
The Age of Adaline stars Blake Lively as Adaline Bowman, a woman born in the year 1908 who suddenly ceases to age following a car accident (and near-death experience) in the 1930s. However, as time goes by, it becomes increasingly difficult for Adaline to explain away her unchanging condition - until, during the 1950s, she is targeted by shadowy government officials (seeking to examine her as a scientific oddity) and goes on the run, in order protect both herself and her daughter.
Cut to New Year's Eve 2014 and Adaline is living a solitary life under a different name in San Francisco, as her now elderly daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn) pretends to be Adaline's grandmother. An encounter with charming philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) soon leads to a newfound romance for Adaline - but after years of living on the run (and knowing she cannot grow older), will Adaline embrace or abandon this new chance at finding love with another person?
The Age of Adaline essentially blends romance and magical realism (in the vein of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Time Traveler's Wife, etc.), despite how the film makes an ill-advised effort to provide a science-fiction explanation for its protagonist's unusual condition. That actually speaks to the general quality of Age of Adaline: it's a perfectly charming and occasionally tear-jerking romantic fantasy... assuming you can overlook (or accept) its contrived plot mechanics and story developments.
Age of Adaline story/script writers Salvador Paskowitz (a relative newcomer) and J. Mills Goodloe (The Best of Me) combine romantic schmaltz and soapy narrative twists with more fantastical elements, in order to craft a parable about mortality, love, and how the choices we make (or don't make) shape our lives. Ultimately, though, Age of Adaline doesn't examine these subjects with that much depth - resulting in a film that will certainly tug on many people's heart-strings, but ends up lacking the poignance that other recent magical realist movies have managed to achieve (see: About Time).
What Age of Adaline may lack in substance, though, it makes up for with presentation. Director Lee Toland Krieger and cinematographer David Lanzenberg (who previously collaborated on Celeste & Jesse Forever) craft a love fairy tale-esque portrait of both the modern world and certain decades in the the 20th century. Their approach includes using soft focus imagery during the movie's flashback sequences and an eye-catching, yet subdued, color palette in the present, as a visual reflection of the film's protagonist (an old soul trapped in a younger person's body).
Combine that with handsome production design and art direction, and the result is that Age of Adaline always looks gorgeous, no matter how preposterous the story becomes. If there's a weakness in the film's aesthetics, though, it's that the scenery featured in the flashbacks doesn't always highlight the narrative's central metaphor as strongly as it might've done; namely that Adaline (literally) won't change even as the world around her does.
Blake Lively delivers a solid performance as Age of Adaline's namesake; she expresses a sense of refinement, intelligence, and wit that's appropriate for the character, despite falling a bit short when it comes to handling scenes focused on how much loss Adaline has experienced over the course of her long life. Similarly, the screen chemistry here between Lively and love interest Michiel Huisman - bringing the same hunk appeal and sophisticated charm that've made him a fan-favorite on TV series like Game of Thrones and Orphan Black - is strong enough to serve the film's purposes.
Meanwhile, supporting cast members Ellen Burstyn (as the older version of Adaline's daughter) and Harrison Ford (as Ellis' father) help to ground the film's story by playing older people who've more naturally experienced the passage of time and life. Burstyn is quite delightful as Flemming - who has developed something of a different perspective on old age thanks to her mother's condition - while Ford delivers what is one of his finer dramatic performances, in a compelling (if, again, contrived) subplot.
(Sidenote: Kudos to whoever was responsible for casting Anthony Ingruber, who plays Ford's character in flashbacks - and really looks/sounds like the young Ford.)
The Age of Adaline is a ludicrous romantic fantasy, but solid craftsmanship and good acting make it an enjoyable one too. It's certainly far better than any Nicholas Sparks romance film in recent memory and, in turn, will benefit more from watching on a big screen than your average romance genre offering from Hollywood.
Consider Age of Adaline a good date night movie and/or a wise selection for those who enjoy a decent magical realist (or, rather, "sci-fi") love story, for those same reasons.
The Age of Adaline is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 110 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for a suggestive comment.