Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 50 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 3; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
We might add to the Genesis passage that “it also is not good for the woman to be alone,” as director Lee Toland Krieger and the marvelous cast of his film demonstrate. In this magic realism tale Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively), born near the beginning of the 20th Century, has lived a solitary existence because of the strange occurrence that occurred when she was 29. Most Hollywood starlets would pay a king’s ransom for Adaline’s immortal condition, but she comes to see her eternal beauty as a burden, which makes this a fascinating tale, as well as a romantic occasion for the perfect date film.
A narrator starts with Adaline (Blake Lively) in 2014 San Francisco obtaining from a youthful forger a fake driver’s license identifying her as Jennifer Larson. She works in the archives of the SF Library. Then the narrator backtracks to the early 1930s when Adaline is trapped in a car submerged in icy water and a lightning bolt strikes, transforming her body so that it stops aging. She marries and bears a daughter, but her young husband dies. As those about her grow older she remains 29, mistaken by casual observers as the sister of her daughter Flemming (at age 20 played by Cate Richardson). Thus every decade or so she moves and changes careers, never sharing her secret with any one but her daughter or allowing herself to become entangled with a man. Over the 80 years since her accident she has buried too many of her beloved pet spaniels to grieve over the loss of another husband. She also keeps on the run because she fears what others might do were they to learn of her strange condition: in a sequence set during the paranoid McCarthy era she barely manages to escape from two sinister Federal agents trying to take her into custody. Were this a Marvel Film, the plot would have gone in a very different direction! Indeed her fantastic transformation, “explained” in pseudoscientific terms is triggered by a process similar to those that changed Spiderman and other super heroes and super villains.
In the present time Jenny, the name on her new I.D., is coping with the plan of her daughter, whom she now introduces as her grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), to enter into an Arizona retirement home. At a New Years Eve party at a fancy hotel philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) is drawn to her and follows her out of the ballroom and into the hallway. He keeps trying to connect with her, but she rebuffs him. In the elevator he persists. She tells him that she first heard his line “from a young Bing Crosby type.” (Little does he know she could have met the real Bing!) He plies her with a line from a poem by the 19th Century British writer Leigh Hunt, “Jenny Kissed Me,” “Say I’m weary, say I’m sad. /Say that health and wealth have miss’d me./ “Say I’m growing old, but add, Jenny kiss’d me.” (To see how appropriate it is to the story see the whole the poem at: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/180845.)
Of course Ellis will not give up, and eventually Jenny agrees to go with him for a weekend with his parents William and Kathy Jones (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker). The tone grows heavier when William sets eyes on his son’s beau. The older man recognizes Jenny as the Adaline whom he had wooed while a student in England and who had stood him up while, fingering the box that held an engagement ring, he had awaited her on a park bench. Her explanation that Adaline was her mother puts off the full revelation of her secret, but only for a time.
Although there is not enough humor to label this a romantic comedy, there are many witty lines, and a delightful sequence in which Jennifer joins the family in a game of Trivial Pursuits. Ellis and his sister warn her that William is on a 50-game+ winning streak. However, A daline has experienced first-hand many of the events referenced on the cards. Poor Henry does not stand a chance, the result being that he has to swallow his pride and endure the good-natured taunts of his family.
The resolution of Adaline/Jennifer’s dilemma would have been hokey in any other film, but by the time it arrives we are so invested in the engaging characters that this does not matter. The top five cast members are so convincing that it is easy to cast reason and logic aside and embrace the magic realism. Blake Lively, looking gorgeous and genuine in the costumes of several different eras, surely has come into her own now as a major star. Harrison Ford’s performance, although he is in just the last third of the film, is moving, one of his best in years. He is convincingly astonished, confused, and then wonderfully gallant in the marriage anniversary scene in which he pays tribute to his present wife. He is the perfect picture of the man who lost his first Great Love and who has accepted and learned to love his second best. Kathy Baker does well at showing a twinge of jealously at her husband’s attitude toward their son’s lovely partner. Michiel Huisman and Lively interact very well together, and the few scenes in which the older Ellen Burstyn appears with Lively are fun, being visually ironic.
Along with its entertainment value the film offers opportunity to talk about aging, beauty, and immortality. Adaline’s loneliness and her long-time inability to enter into the common joys of ordinary mortals remind me a little of the desire of one of the angel’s in German filmmaker Wim Wender’s spiritual odyssey Wings of Desire in which one of two angels watching over Berlin during the Cold War longs to become mortal so he can experience human experiences. Both films make the viewer more aware and appreciative of the miracle we call the human experience. Like the author of the Song of Solomon, Adaline leads us to believe “love is strong as death,” more valuable than all the wealth of the world.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the May 2015 issue of Visual Parables.