After 29-year-old Adaline recovers from a nearly lethal accident, she inexplicably stops growing older. As the years stretch on and on, Adaline keeps her secret to herself until she meets a man who changes her life.
“Gossip Girl” star Blake Lively plays the title character, a woman who meets and loses her husband during the construction of the Golden Gate bridge, then miraculously survives a car wreck and emerges as an ageless being whose looks are frozen at age 28. She can be killed, but she will never die of natural causes or succumb to the usual ravages of time, which gives her relationship with her daughter (played as an older woman by Ellen Burstyn) a fairy tale or horror movie aspect. (It’s sort of a vampire film minus the bloodsucking.) Adaline spends the rest of her life running from entanglements of every kind. Whenever anyone gets hip to the fact that she never ages and wonders if there’s something odd about that, she slips away in the night and starts over as someone else.
This sounds more compelling than it plays, at least at first. As written by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, “Adaline” starts off handsome but dramatically inert. The third-person storybook narration drifts in and out as needed. The imagery—though shot through with fairy tale special effects and meticulous re-creations of period cityscapes, cars and costumes—feels more literary than cinematic: a slide show illustrating a novel that never was. The casting of the leads doesn’t add any spark. Lively is a poised and intriguingly restrained beauty, but the script treats her character as a figurine with no discernible interior life, and the actress does nothing to contradict that impression. She’s not bad, not great, just competent, and present. (There are moments where the storybook narration evokes “Amelie” and “A Very Long Engagement,” which likewise keep their heroines at arm’s length, but Lively is no Audrey Tatou.)
Michiel Huisman fares no better as Ellis Jones, the first man to win Adaline’s heart in decades. Although he displayed off-kilter charisma in HBO’s “Treme” and “Game of Thrones,” he’s asked to play a conventional 2015 male ingenue here: a bland dreamboat with kind eyes, a well-trimmed beard and mustache, and rock-hard abs. Ellis wants them to spend the rest of their lives together, but Adaline (who now goes by Jenny) can’t find the nerve to tell him why this can’t happen. She’s nice, he’s nice, they can’t be nice together. It’s a sad predicament, but there’s no tension in it.