The Age of Adaline is a clunky romance with a sci-fi twist that falls short of the magic it would need to come alive. That's not for lack of trying. With sepia-toned flashbacks, some heavy-handed mystical-sounding narration, and Blake Lively spending half the movie looking meaningfully into the middle distance, this is a movie that's trying hard to bring some magic.
It all ends up feeling very much like a Nicholas Sparks movie, and like so many Sparks movies, this one's saving grace is its hunk — this time the up-and-coming Michiel Huisman. But while Huisman radiates charm, the movie's star feels like a blank space in the middle of the film. Lively is likable. She's good at likable. But not in any way that makes you want to spend time with her onscreen. She's more like a very helpful bank teller. You wish her the best, but you'd really like to be on your way.
The movie finds Lively playing Adaline, a woman who was born January 1, 1908, but has been stuck at age 29 since she nearly drowned and was struck by lightning in 1937. As a result she's had to change her identity every 10 years so no one gets suspicious about her agelessness, and her daughter, played by Ellen Burstyn, has to keep her secret. When she meets Huisman's character, a San Francisco philanthropist with a Silicon Valley fortune he's trying to figure out how to spend, she finds herself falling dangerously in love in a plot that's familiar to anyone who's into vampire movies.
So the premise is a little silly, but that's the least of the movie's problems. It's easy to forgive a silly premise if the movie is good or even just fun, but Age of Adaline gets the tone all wrong. Director Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind, Celeste & Jesse Forever) consistently evokes the saccharine feeling of a romance novel with little of the excitement. The movie threatens to bore its audience out of the theater by the midpoint, where it thankfully picks up some steam from Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker, who play Huisman's parents.
Ford's character could unravel Adaline's secret, but I won't say how because that would be a spoiler. But I can reveal Lively is hopelessly out of her league in any scene that requires her to interact with Ford, a man who brings a seriously dense gravitas to every line reading. In one of the movie's most dramatic and emotional scenes, Ford's character confronts Adaline, and Lively is so mismatched it's jarring.
The Age of Adaline is mostly interesting for what it says about the careers of everyone involved. Lively is the grown-up former ingenue still trying to find her place in Hollywood. Ford is the fading star whose long period of antagonism toward the industry has led to his appearing in second-rate movies like this. And Huisman is the up-and-comer who comes out looking great by being better than the movie he's in — able to outdo Lively and keep up with Ford.
The movie's plot points, right up to the end, are pretty easy to call. This is a by-the-numbers story that's very predictable. At its best, it feels comfortable, something to watch alone on a Saturday night with a drink in hand and an open mind. The Age of Adaline isn't terribly bad, but it's not good either.