‘The Age of Adaline’
Director:
Lee Toland Krieger
Stars: Blake Lively, Harrison Ford
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

In “The Age of Adaline,” Blake Lively plays a woman who has stopped aging — and, much, much more importantly, is a horrible, terrible commitment-phobe. Her magical condition — acquired through means both profoundly impenetrable and deeply unimaginative (something with lightning, water and California snow) — has left her reluctant to make deep human contact. Born in 1908, Adaline’s been cursed with looking like Blake Lively for some eight decades, during which she’s periodically uprooted her life, swapping identities, slightly changing her hairstyle and, worst of all, chucking a stream of lovers. She fears that if her secret is discovered she’ll be carted off for scientific research. But it’s clear that’s a flimsy excuse to not let people in, and the film exists in part to remind us that loners are bad, no person is an island, mate or die, etc.

“The Age of Adeline” clings to this angle — you might say it was committed to it — and you can accuse it of being unimaginative, of not fully exploiting its premise. Certainly Adeline herself has the same problem. Gifted with a form of immortality (though she presumably could die just like anyone), she’s wound up mostly sticking in San Francisco instead of scouring the world for adventures. (At least cinephiles will be delighted that Adaline, a history buff, has taken a job in an archive, which somehow has the excess cash to digitize its local film reels. It’s hard to resist a mainstream movie that beams to some 3,000 theaters a bit from the remarkable 1906 San Fran film “A Trip Down Market Street.”)

It is, then, one-note, though it’s a pretty good note, and after some initial stutter-stepping — including a newsreel-y opening in which the stentorian narrator deploys some truly impressive gobbledygook, all to give it a shiny pseudo-scientific glaze — “Adaline” hits its groove as a dreamy reverie in a minor key. The main focus is Adaline’s love life, namely her habit of picking up and chucking men. Her latest prey is Ellis (Michael Huisman, yet another "Game of Throne"-r thrown into big movies), a dashing young entrepreneur who likes jazz, if also smooth jazz. (Nobody’s perfect.) She tries to resist him, but she can’t, and for her failure she’s rewarded by meeting his dad, William (Harrison Ford), who turns out to be (record scratch) no less than one of her old flames, now 40 years older, happily married yet still haunted by this girl who one day long ago vanished.

Ford doesn’t appear till the halfway mark, but his introduction instantly kicks things up a notch. That may sound weird; he’s not been, in these last two decades, the most present of actors, sometimes withdrawing with himself, disappearing down a growly, irritated hole. Recently, in “42” and “The Expendables 3,” he’s sprung back to life, and even though his face is buried behind glasses and a puffy goatee he’s a heartbreaking mess of raw emotions. When William re-meets Adaline, his memories flood back, and Ford effectively plays him as a machine breaking down. He can’t contain himself, struggling mightily to pass off his spluttering reminiscences as self-deprecation. William is a man who found a healthy second life with what became a dear family, but he’s forced to again wonder about the track his life may have taken had his first beloved not had some wacky movie disease.

One may even wish the movie was really about William. (Though that would rob him of his final scene, which may be the most moving.) Instead, it's about Adaline, and as his semi-obscure object of obsession, Lively is OK. She’s supposed to be someone who bewitches all who meet her with her intelligence, wit and poise. Lively has the poise down pat; she gets an A for posture. When it comes to refinement while using a knife and fork, she would best the entire cast of “Downton Abbey.” She’s less convincing as a magnetic figure of cool smarts, but she tries: She stays within herself, projecting a permanent smile that’s meant to convey hesitant warmth — someone you want to know but who will never let you. But she doesn’t have the skill or screen presence to suggest she’s really that brainy underneath, and her wit tends to manifest itself in dumb, couldn’t-resist private jokes only she and the audience will get. (She cracks about once being wooed by “a young Bing Crosby…type.” Good save.) She’s perfect, then, for the film, which is beautiful but shallow, but also beautiful — a spell that only breaks once you turn on your brain, which you shouldn’t anyway.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge