Even if a woman lives for 100 years, the only notable thing in her life is whom she sleeps with.
That's the apparent hidden message of director Lee Toland Krieger's new movie The Age of Adaline, a mawkish sci-fi melodrama about Adaline, a woman cursed by a combination of lightning and hypothermia — yes, lightning and hypothermia — to look like a 29-year-old Blake Lively for the rest of her life.
Born in 1908, Adaline achieves immortality that allows her to experience monumental events like both World Wars, Vietnam, the Beatles, women's suffrage, Andy Warhol, the '70s, Janis Joplin, the civil rights movement, and the acceptance of gay marriage, to say nothing of inventions like Xerox machines, television, modern airplanes, the internet, wifi, iPhones and Twitter.
Yet the only thing that really stands out for Adaline amid the swells of history are the men she sleeps with or wants to sleep with.
Her latest suitor is the dashing Ellis (Michiel Huisman), who wants to love her before she moves to Oregon. To Adaline, Oregon is apparently a Bermuda triangle of sorts — people are never visited by friends and loved ones and never return from their visit. Adaline isn't really itching to go to Oregon, but she's afraid to tell Ellis she's an immortal old lady.
That makes Age of Adaline essentially Twilight set in San Francisco, with Lively as Robert Pattinson, Huisman as Kristen Stewart, and Harrison Ford and Ellen Burstyn taking turns playing Taylor Lautner and that earlier film series' weird demon baby.
Adaline has no spirit, but she has 28 different hairstyles
Many things go unexplained in Age of Adaline.
Adaline is friends with a blind piano player who thinks Adaline is in her 60s. Adaline loves dogs. Adaline can speak Portuguese. Adaline goes to London and learns French. There are facets of Adaline's life that are presented to us but never explained or explored.
And that's the main problem with both the film and its title character.
This woman is supposed to have had a rich life, brimming with experiences. If this were any other person, these experiences would have shaped the way he or she looked at the world.
Not so with Adaline. All we're presented with is an openly boring, blank canvas of a person who wants to work in a library and move to Oregon. It's a rather grim view of immortality.
Even though Adaline is such a dull character, it's not difficult to comprehend why Ellis is so deeply attracted to her, despite knowing nothing about her (even if there isn't much to know). She is stunning. Adaline's looks, the movie makes known, are the only reason men fall in love with her.
In fact, a movie detailing her beauty regimen would have been a more riveting film. How did the advent of dry shampoo change Adaline? Did Adaline use sunblock? Does Adaline go to CrossFit?
My colleague Kelsey McKinney and I counted 28 different hairstyles worn by Lively in this 110-minute movie. That means a new hairstyle appears roughly every four minutes. And each style is a marvel — Adaline's hair is simply too good for this world. If the writers were as dedicated as the movie's hairstylists, we could have had another Citizen Kane on our hands.
Harrison Ford is the best part of Age of Adaline
Unexpectedly, Ford holds his sections of the movie together, doing a brilliant job as William Jones, an old (literally old) flame cut from the tapestry of Nicholas Sparks novels. William is one of the fixtures of Adaline's youth, and he, like the rest of the people in her life, has moved on without her. He's a stargazing professor celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary now.
Ford is equal parts goofy and graceful as William. He shifts from understated comedy into all-out heartbreak. But his greatest strength is coaxing glimmers of feeling from Lively, who seems to have confused the movie's "old soul" concept with being aloof.
Burstyn and Huisman also turn in good performances as Adaline's old-lady child, Flemming, and Adaline's much younger lover. Burstyn makes the most of the wry humor in Lively playing her mom. And Huisman is charming as a young tech millionaire, even if Lively and the writing don't give him much to work with.
However, these characters suffer from the same symptoms of Adaline's unexplained life. We know stuff about them — Flemming wants to live in a retirement community because she has friends who break hips; Ellis likes books — but there isn't really any attempt to show how these bits of information, or even snooze-inducing Adaline herself, fit into the puzzle of their lives.
Age of Adaline wants to be a movie about the grim underbelly of immortality. And while it shows us the sad, gory bits of that reality — children getting older than their parents, lovers dying, not being able to commit to a long-term relationship — it's Adaline's monotonous life and personality that are the real horror.
Immortality can be depressing, but immortality when you have no discernible personality is truly terrifying. If the film were even the slightest bit aware of the macabre message it sends, it might be worth wasting a few mortal minutes on.
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