In the new fantasy drama by director Lee Toland Krieger, Blake Lively plays a woman Hollywood studios have been trying to sell us since celluloid was invented: A beautiful blonde who literally can’t age a day past 29.
Adaline Bowman, born the first baby of the New Year in San Francisco in 1908, is gliding through the paces of a lovely, ordinary life with her handsome husband and their baby girl. Then one night on a dark road, there is an accident: A swerve on a slippery curve, a plunge into frigid water, and a bolt of lightning that, according to the story’s unnamed narrator, begets a perfect storm of thermonuclear happenstance, freezing her cells in physical youth forever. (Just go with it).
Over the eight decades that follow, Adaline continues to look as dewy as she did the day FDR was sworn in, even though she now has an iPhone, a daughter (Ellen Burstyn) she passes off as her grandmother, and a smitten young tech millionaire named Ellis (Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman) in hot pursuit. Ellis wants to sweep Adaline off her feet, but after years of running from one assumed identity to the next to avoid being singled out and turned into some kind of scientific specimen, she knows she can’t commit to any intimacy that will eventually reveal her secret—and inevitably grow old while she doesn’t.
Like Adaline herself, the movie is beautiful but a little bit of a blank. We understand, in several scenes, why her condition is less lucky than her smoothly serene face can show: Her daughter is preparing to leave her for an Arizona retirement home, and the only other living creature who gets to see her with her guard down is her cocker spaniel, the great-great-granddog in a long line she’s buried. It’s hard, though, to get a lot from a character whose necessary wariness builds such a wall against the outside world.
Lively looks fantastic in every era’s fashion as it passes, and she does a nice job of conveying Adaline’s old-world diction and reserve; there’s no Gossip in this girl. What’s missing from the movie isn’t really her fault at all: The premise opens up a thousand questions about what a life that spans more than a century of social upheaval and modern progress means, but it’s mostly interested in being a prettily moody romance. Harrison Ford, as Ellis’ father, brings a smart twist in the last third of movie, and some welcome emotional heft. As a director, Krieger (Celeste and Jesse Forever) can’t quite keep up with him; he stays mostly in the metaphysical shallow end, and eventually lets the plot surrender to pure silliness. Still, Adaline is consistently gorgeous to look at—and a good reminder that love, even when it’s complicated or painful or doesn’t last, is a whole lot better than immortality. B