What do we know, at the beginning of the film, thanks to its very title, and the trailer? We have a young girl in Adaline (Blake Lively from Gossip Girl) who does not*drumroll* age. At what age would most women want to stop ageing? It used to be 16 once, in the disturbing old years-of-the-corset-past. Thankfully, in 2015, you can only be on the wrong side of your youthful 20s: once you are 29, in today’s post second-wave feminist times. (Oh wow, so much progress, let us pat ourselves, and Olay, on the back.) It is no coincidence then, that Adaline’s natural ageing process is nipped in the bud, as soon as she reaches 29, in an almost miraculous accident very convenient for current politics of the beauty industry. This is no Dorian Gray tale of a libertine desiring to be forever youthful to preserve his beauty. This is a conservative parable about the perils of chasing ambition and beauty, the two signifiers of youth over the ultimate ambition “of growing old together”.
Adaline is 109 and 29 at the same time when we are introduced to her in the beginning of the film. While her appearance and energy is nothing short of a lithe, young working woman, her heart lies in the previous century of dusty books and silent movies. Like Twilight‘s vampires, Anadine moves from era to era, merely changing her clothes and hairstyle along with a new identity as decades progress, but the heart of her closet back in her house (literally) is a little sepia-toned period film, replete with ornate mirrors and musty velvet gowns (that no one figures are eight decades old because vintage is back in vogue, obviously.)
The conflict of the film: Is staying forever 29 really a dream come true, is answered in the negative early on, and our interest wanes after half-hour into run-time. Adaline floats between relationship that are fleeting flashes of passion, because she cannot let slip her secret, for fear of becoming a “curiosity” in the eyes of the world. The dodgy scientific explanation for Adaline’s case seems to have place in a tired badly-made film from the ’90s, and at points it isn’t old fashioned as a cinematic conceit, but old-fashioned in the dreary sense of the phrase.
If there is a redeeming element in the film, it is that Blake Lively (Adaline Bowman) and current Game of Thrones heartthrob Michiel Huisman (Ellis Jones) share great onscreen chemistry, and when they don’t and the story sags, if nothing, you could gape at two beautiful people trying to sell love. It has been beautifully shot by David Lanzenberg, with lovely long shots of American suburban existence. Ellis Jones and Adaline (now going by the name of Jennifer) fall in love. Harrison Ford is seen in a surprise appearance as Ellis Jones’ dad, and complications arise (but not enough for you to care) when he recognises Adaline from his own youth.
Adaline, the tragic heroine of this tale, cannot be free of her youth, both literally and figuratively. Her melancholy arises out of nostalgia for a time gone by, and her loneliness is not met by this world that she may understand, but does not seek any joy in. Her youth is her albatross, in scene after scene, as she sees her daughter age and grow feeble; the jazz that everyone listens to is not to her taste; while New Year’s revelry was charming “back in those days”, at present times it does nothing but pain her to be a part of celebrations, among the young who mistakenly think she is a part of them. Oh poor Adaline, who maintains a low profile with a job as a librarian, hidden away with books until this charming prince, borrowed from the neighbourhood period drama comes in to rescue her. Where have we heard this before?