This movie was like a poor man’s Benjamin Button, but you know what? I saw it on my birthday with my friend, and I loved it anyway.
This aforementioned friend also brought up an excellent point about (one of) the film’s weaknesses, which was that it was preemptively pandering to the idiots that would automatically criticize it for being unscientific. See, the premise of this thing is that Blake Lively gets struck by lightning and stops aging. And in the scene where she gets struck, a Jim Dale-esque voiceover bombards the viewer with “facts” about the lightning strike and molecules changing, and elements combining, and all this shit that’s really only there to attempt to shut up those five internet commenters that were the kids that raised their hands all the time in every class in middle school. And the thing is, the science is so blatantly false that those kids are just going to raise their hands (ie, blow up Twitter) anyway. The story would have been much more fun if the writer just trusted most people to suspend their disbelief and enjoy a fairy tale with a modern twist. Because that’s really what this thing is. And it is fun!
It also contains some subtle misogyny, but no fairy tale is incomplete without such a vital element. I was willing to let that go for the sake of enjoying the sheer beautiful spectacle of it all. Nevermind that Blake Lively is insanely gorgeous, and Michiel Huisman is my #1—this movie takes place in San Francisco, of all places, the place I just left. And it does a hell of a job capturing the majesty of that place, which is usually enveloped in thick fog and even thicker irony. Lively’s Adaline Bowman lives in Chinatown, not the Mission/Marina/Alamo Square/Hayes Valley/other “hip” neighborhood: +10 cred points. She works at the historical society, not as an administrative assistant/social media manager at a startup: +10 cred points. Plus, the cinematographer chose noticeably different aerial perspectives of the Bay Area for establishing shots, instead of the overplayed Golden Gate image that we all know. I saw the Bay Bridge. I saw Alcatraz. I saw the real skyline, with the Transamerica Pyramid. I saw a lot of Marin, too, as that’s where Huisman’s Ellis Jones takes Adaline to meet his family: +many more cred points. The coloration was pretty incredible, too—save for those lightning-strike scenes, the entire movie was awash in this rich glow, the glow of the fairy tale it was, the glow that beautiful people emit, I guess. It was stunning.
Lively and Huisman have a gentle chemistry. It’s not exactly the fireworks you’d hope for from two incredibly hot people—and by that, I mean that the sex scenes were pretty minimal (and by that, I mean mostly nonexistent)—but then again, this is a fairy tale. It stays relatively innocent, and thus makes me wonder exactly for whom this movie was geared, but again, I’m willing to let that go because the story itself is pretty interesting. Adaline freezes in time at age 29, after she’d already had a child, and so as the years go on, as she struggles to live a normal life while keeping her secret from everyone but her daughter, we see her daughter age into the lovely old woman that is Ellen Burstyn. Burstyn and Lively do look like they could be related. And I can’t imagine how bizarre it must have been for Lively to play her mother. Burstyn is a legend and a pro, and Lively is still at the start of her career, and yet their relationship really was believable as mother and daughter.
In other excellent casting news, Harrison Ford, ever slightly high, pops up as Ellis’ dad and, coincidentally, Adaline’s lover from years ago. They get a guy named Anthony Ingruber to play young Harry, and while his IMDb page doesn’t really do the visual justice, the resemblance on the big screen was uncanny. Vocally, they were the same. It was incredible. And what a truly weird, unique thing to have to deal with. Our first instinct, socially, is to think it’s icky, taboo, whatever. But in this fairy tale context, it’s really not. It’s just one of the many things Adaline had to deal with during her unique life, in addition to hiding from the government so as not to be treated like a science experiment.
There is a scene towards the end of the movie when Adaline sits down everyone in the Jones family and tells them what’s up, but it’s done in such a way that we don’t hear the dialogue. It’s almost like a montage without the images changing. And I do wish I could have heard that conversation, because it’s what the entire movie hinges on—when she’s going to reveal her secret, and how she’s going to live after she does it. She’s spent an entire lifetime making excuses, changing identities, picking up new skills, and in that moment, it all disappeared. I think it would have given Lively herself a bit more of an opportunity, acting-wise, the way Button really let Brad Pitt “explore his craft,” for lack of a less pretentious term.
I don’t necessarily recommend this movie. Especially if you’re cynical. But if you enjoy beautiful things and you miss the Bay Area, it might be exactly what you need.