“The Age of Anodyne” might be a better title for Lee Toland Krieger’s blandly manipulative romantic fantasy, which is carefully designed to elicit emotional sparks—though, unfortunately, they’re primarily of the Nicholas variety. Glossy in the style of Ross Hunter and silly in the mode of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Age of Adaline” represents the sort of melodramatic pseudo-profundity that poses as meaningful in hokey novels and Hollywood chick flicks.
An omniscient narrator (Hugh Ross) lays out the premise in the first fifteen minutes: Adaline (Blake Lively) is born in 1908, marries one of the engineers of the Golden Gate Bridge, has a daughter and is then widowed. Soon after, she has a car accident in a freak Sonoma Valley snowfall, dies in a cold stream but is resurrected by a bolt of lightning (shades of “Frankenstein”). From that moment on she remains 29 years old in perpetuity, periodically changing residence and identity to avoid becoming a scientific curiosity. By the present her daughter Flemming has turned into Ellen Burstyn, whom she reunites with once a year on her birthday.
For reasons of self-preservation Adaline has avoided any long-term relationships that would inevitably lead to problems as a mate aged while she did not. But when Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a rich young philanthropist, spies her at a New Year’s party, he’s smitten, and pursues her with a passion. She finally relents, and before long they’re off to visit his parents, astronomer William (Harrison Ford) and his wife Connie (Kathy Baker).
It’s at this point that the script by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz resorts to a coincidence so massive that it makes it impossible to continue suspending disbelief even on the movie’s pulpy narrative level. True, it does allow Ford more scope for his acting talent than any of his recent roles has done, and I must admit that it’s fun watching a fellow named Anthony Ingruber, making his feature debut, imitating the young Ford (though some lip-synching appears to be involved). But the ultimate resolution is about as persuasive as that hoary old plot device about how amnesia caused by a bump on the head can be cured by a second conk at the appropriate moment.
Ford is, in fact, about the only saving grace in the picture. Lively is beautiful in the way that Lana Turner was in Hunter’s weepies of the fifties and sixties, or ‘Tippi’ Hedron was in Hitchcock’s later films, and she moves through the picture with a statuesque air in a succession of beautiful dresses, coats and more outdoorsy outfits (all designed by Angus Strathie). Huisman proves a handsomely unkempt suitor with his ruffled hair and stylish beard, and it’s nice to see both Burstyn and Baker working again in roles that aren’t particularly taxing but aren’t humiliating either. Technically all is well: Claude Pare’s production design oozes elegance, as does Martina Jarorova’s art direction, and cinematographer David Lanzenberg packages it all in pretty widescreen images. Rob Simonson adds a syrupy score that from the start announces that something magical is happening with an angelic choir accompanying the orchestra.
Back in 1960 Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” addressed the same issues as “The Age of Adaline” in Charles Beaumont’s “Long Live Walter Jameson.” It was a much tougher, and far more thoughtful, take on the notion of permanent youthfulness, and it had the nerve to end on a much grimmer note. (Jameson also made practical use of his longevity by becoming an historian. Adaline just uses it to win Trivial Pursuit.) Some of those qualities would have done this spineless movie a lot of good.