Original US release date: April 24, 2015
Production budget: $30,000,000
Worldwide gross: $65,663,276
While I won’t be doing this every week, I thought it might be fun to look back at older movies from time to time. Perspective can be an illuminating thing. In order to be a throwback, the film simply must be from any year other than the current year. Sometimes, these will be movies I’ve never seen before. Other times, they will be something that I’m revisiting.
In this case, it’s the former. While The Age of Adaline movie was on my radar at the time of its release, I never got around to seeing it. After Blake Lively’s monumental performance in The Shallows, I noticed that Adaline was available on Amazon Prime, so I decided to fire up my Xbox One and check it out (even though blu-ray is better. Blu-ray is always better.).
For the unfamiliar, The Age of Adaline tells the story of a woman, Adaline (Lively), who stops aging due to an event that occurs in her late-twenties. This story could be played in so many different ways, but this particular take is a drama that hinges on a bit of science-fiction. This is far from the first time this idea has been touched upon in science-fiction, by the way. It’s actually a fairly regular occurrence in the world of comic books as there are many characters (Wolverine, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Mystique, Ra’s Al Ghul, Vandal Savage, Thor, Hulk, etc.) who don’t age or age very slowly. Sometimes it’s by choice. Sometimes it’s not. And then there’s the tale of Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth.
In those stories, however, the idea is never fully explored. There are just too many other things going on to dig too deep into this particular touchstone of each of those character’s existences. In The Age of Adaline, the idea is deconstructed and the consequences of possessing the “gift” of immortality are comprehensively examined.
It’s a very deep, thought-provoking idea with many more layers than one might initially realize. The film really succeeds in translating the emotional toll this would take on the person who suffers this misfortune. And that’s what it is: a misfortune. We fear death. We dread it. We avoid it. But it’s part of life. Just as there is no good without bad, no love without hate, and no success without failure . . . there is no life without death. Adaline watches as everyone she loves, everyone around her, grows old and dies. She becomes the victim of scientific curiosity, her very livelihood being threatened simply because of who she is, not because of anything she’s done. Eternal life becomes a burden.
Adaline understandably reacts by cutting off all connection to the world. She keeps everyone and everything at arm’s length, using her sharp sense of humor and charm to worm her way out of any tricky situations that come her way. She has gotten to a point in her life where the aggregate loss outweighs the benefits of love.
Lively handles all of this with relative ease. She projects the confidence of one who has learned much through a long life, but she also carries the vulnerability that comes with that knowledge. Lively adds many subtle touches to her performance, as well. During moments when Adaline lets her guard down, she turns to a slightly more anachronistic, sophisticated dialect that is soft enough to almost go unnoticed. But this only happens in those instances when Adaline wants to believe she might be able to have an honest moment. And, as far as she’s concerned, an honest moment here and there is the best she can ever hope for. Through all of this, there is a sadness in Lively’s performance that sits perpetually under the surface. It’s clear that she put a lot of thought and effort into this performance and this character and she takes a concept that is a little high-minded for what is otherwise an adult drama and makes it work.
Admittedly, while the story has a great hook and a lot of relevant introspection, it also relies on several extreme coincidences. Now, coincidences happen in life. But there are multiple coincidences here that require a severe suspension of disbelief. How Adaline ends up with this affliction can be bought through the pseudo-science explanation. (That’s all these types of story hooks really need. It’s never about the How. It’s about the What-Happens-Next.) But, beyond that, there are a couple more. Now, at this point, one can either dismiss the whole thing as lazy writing or ask oneself why these choices were made. I asked myself, and I get it. If someone is going to write a story about what it would be like to go through this experience, then they might as well go all the way with it. And, to not only do so, but to do so efficiently, in a reasonable timeframe, without getting distracted with convoluted setups in order to get to where they want to go, it might be better to just make it happen by coincidence. Sometimes, sacrifices have to be made in filmmaking. Those sacrifices often involve difficult choices. So, if the three choices are to 1) make a tighter, emotionally resonant film that relies on some mathematical improbabilities, 2) make a longer film that gets bogged down in explanations for events rather than the repercussions of said events, even though the audience has already bought into the practically-impossible premise of the film, or 3) not make the film at all, then I would probably be tempted to go with choice number 1, myself.
One way or another, The Age of Adaline is an imperfect, but ambitious and well-meaning film. Blake Lively gives a delicate, subtle performance that sadly got overlooked by most. And the film, itself, reinforces the idea that life is fleeting and it’s meant to be that way. It’s impossible to appreciate that which lasts forever because the eternal becomes taken for granted. And life is not to be taken for granted. Frankly, there are so many levels to this film that I could see how each individual viewer could extrapolate their own meaning and lesson from it. Give it a look, if you haven’t, but keep your brain switch on. This isn’t a film that just exists on the surface. On the surface, it’s a love story. In actuality, it’s a cautionary tale told through love because it’s the one aspect of life we can all relate to.
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