Fairy tales are wrong; there is no happily ever after. Instead, love burns brightly for a moment and then dies, the heart that held it having yeilded to the ravages of time. I know this because I’ve seen my share of movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels.
Perhaps the intensity of love can be attributed to its temporary nature. At least that’s what I took away from “Age of Adaline,” a romantic fantasy starring Blake Lively as a 29-year-old woman who stops aging, and subsequently finds romantic relationships too painful to endure.
Even in leaving ‘Adaline’ with that simple platitude, I read too much into it. Director Lee Toland Krieger and writers J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz simply aimed to evoke the nostalgic warmth of an old movie, and they succeeded wonderfully.
The movie opens, as a narrator tells us, with the beginning of the final chapter of the life of Adaline. The voiceover is perhaps too informative as it explains what should be obvious to viewers: Adaline lives in present-day San Francisco and works at a library. Through scenes set early in her life, we learn she was born in 1908, and at the age of 29 was involved in an accident that stopped her aging process.
The filmmakers did something interesting here: they explain the phenomenon by saying the scientific principles that caused it won’t be discovered until 2035. “Something happened that was almost magical,” the narrator says, sounding like a grandfather reading a bedtime story. By grounding the movie in the temporal world, Krieger and company avoid ‘Adaline’ being written off as pure fantasy.
They also make their protagonist’s problems more real, and seemingly insurrmountable. Driven to a reclusive existence by the fear of being subjected to scientific experiments, Adaline changes her name and appearance every ten years, and shuns personal relationships. In the beginning, her only friends are an aging dog, a blind woman, and her daughter – the only human being to know the truth – played by a still vibrant Ellen Burstyn.
Enter Ellis Jones at a New Year’s Eve party, looking like he was peeled off the cover of GQ Magazine and given the task of being Adaline’s love interest. He plays the part well, having already fallen for her when her saw her on the steps of the library one day. She turns him down, though, and continues to do so as he relentlessly pursues her.
Having a suitor only makes Adaline lonlier, and in time, she gives in to Eliss. But will she allow herself to fall in love with him? Will she tell him her secret, or run away as he ages but she doesn’t? For that matter, will she even call him back after their first night together?
Even as “Adaline” reveals itself to be little more than a romantic drama, it never loses its charm, largely due to the sincerity of the filmmakers. Scenes that should descend into camp are beautifully written, directed, and performed, especially those between Lively and Burstyn. Other scenes are calculated to touch the hearts of romantics and open tear ducts. Throughout the movie, the director and the writers treat Adaline’s dilemma with absolute conviction, to the degree that I clung to the story even in the wake of a credibility-straining coincidence. (If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll see it coming.)
“Adaline” offers many small pleasures. There are passages of dialogue filled with truth. (Adaline: “Tell me something I can hold onto forever and never let go.” Eliss: “Let go.”) There’s Harrison Ford’s gratifying turn as Ellis’s father. And there’s the way the smaller stories inform the larger one. As Eliss’s father toasts his wife of 40 years, calling her “the love of his life,” he gives viewers food for thought. Love is a risk from which one can reap great rewards.
There’s also the way the movie ends, which actually gave me something else to take away from “Adaline”: make the most of the time you have with the people you love. It’s a gift, and life moves quickly, no matter how long you have.
Three stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for a suggestive comment. David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.