Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Age is just a number

Nostalgia can be a pleasant activity because it allows us to revisit some of our favorite experiences and memories. When it veers into maudlin territory, it can become a burden. The Age of Adaline is about a woman who never has the luxury of engaging in pleasant nostalgia before revisiting the present and travelling forward in life’s journey. Adaline Bowman hasn’t aged since she was 29 years old due to a freak accident and subsequent jolt of electricity stopping time, but only for her, in its tracks. Adaline is played by Blake Lively, who for the first time is given a movie to carry herself and she does so with a great deal of emotion. When we first she Adaline appears friendly and smiles frequently, but there is a sense of underlying sadness. She conceals the heartbreak of never having a shared life and future with someone and therefore leaving behind her loved ones along the way. Adaline relocates every decade with a new identity in order to avoid the suspicions of anyone who might find her lack of aging odd. Because of this, she even spends far less time with her naturally aging daughter played by Ellen Burstyn. If this seems like heavy material, it’s because it is. The Age of Adaline is unique and brave in the way it views immortality as a curse rather than a blessing. Yet, the screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz explores these challenges of timeless aging in a thoughtful way that avoids melodrama. This film is a pleasure from start to finish. A lesser story would have left certain elements unexplored, but Adaline examines the details of how someone would need to keep their secret, provide for themselves and how this life affects them with great intelligence. In an early scene Adaline collects her false driver’s license and passport from a young man and asks why he does this. She explains forgery is a felony, he is a smart man and she doesn’t like to see talent wasted. This is a brief exchange, but one of the most insightful in the script as it shows Adaline’s constant awareness of time and her sadness that she has not been able to live hers as fully as she’d like and doesn’t want the same fate for others. Adaline hasn’t wasted her life and she’s used her time to become fluent in several languages and absorb a rich variety of culture, art and literature. It’s through her work as an archivist that she meets Ellis (Michiel Huisman), a handsome philanthropist. She is reluctant to start a relationship but goes on a couple dates. The San Francisco setting, the cinematography and directing by David Lanzenberg and directing by Lee Toland Krieger and the chemistry between the two leads make this romance and movie a visual delight as well as an emotional one. Adaline eventually goes with Ellis to meet with his parents and when Ellis’ dad William, played by Harrison Ford, sees Adaline (who now goes by the alias Jenny), he practically stops in his tracks. He tells her she looks exactly like an old friend of his. When William was 26, he met Adaline while they were both studying in London. The two spent five memorable weeks together and now more than forty years later are standing face to face. Both actors do impressive work here. Lively has to convey the look of someone who is masking the surprise of seeing him again while keeping up the ruse that she is Adaline’s daughter, which is the most logical response to her appearance. For Lively to show no surprise or emotion would have been unconvincing and too much would have been suspicious, but she finds exactly the right amount and her eyes speak volumes. Ford also must walk an emotional tightrope here and there’s a moment when Adaline says her mother has passed away. Ford does a subtle move in which his body is very slightly lowered under the weight of the news, his face briefly gives in to anguish then conceals it to avoid hurting the feelings of his wife. It’s some of his finest work and these two being reunited after so long is the emotional core of the film. The Age of Adaline has other strengths including the muted way Adaline shows her sophistication and wisdom beyond her 29-year-old appearance, but the greatest strength is this film is simply a joy.

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