In The Age of Adaline, Blake Lively plays a woman who gets struck by fancy weird-science-lightning and stops aging, for decades. But she keeps her condition secret, which means she needs to be alone. This could have been the premise of a neat movie, but instead it’s the basis of a grinding mess.

Minor spoilers ahead — meaning, stuff you’d have gotten if you watched the trailers.

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So Lively plays Adaline, whose eternal youth is a curse. If anybody learns the truth about her, other than her now-elderly daughter, then the authorities will capture Adaline and dissect her for the secret of eternal youth. So every 10 years, she changes her identity and disappears again.

Until, that is, she meets a special guy, Ellis (played by Michiel Huisman, the new Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones.) Now, Adaline has to choose between her fugitive lifestyle and real love.

The whole thing is structured as a romance, but there are just a couple of problems: 1) A total lack of chemistry between Lively and Huisman, who feel as though they’re trying to sell each other a life annuity with only 7 percent APR and a free dirigible after three years. 2) The movie has decided its strong suit is “cute and quirky,” and it leans on that note for all it’s worth. The combination of unlovable lovers and aggressive quirkiness quickly becomes enervating to the point of nihilism.

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Watching Age of Adaline, I had a strong feeling that someone had seen a rough cut of this movie and decided on a slash-and-burn edit. There’s a treacly voiceover that over-explains the plot — and it keeps going throughout the movie, long after you’d think the need for incessant hand-holding would be over. Adaline’s backstory whizzes past, and some key connective tissue feels rushed or nonexistent.

But in the end, this movie lives or dies based on its central romance, which begins with Ellis more or less stalking Adaline and then just becomes kind of bland. At one point, early in their courtship, Ellis starts blasting smooth jazz, of the sort that you’d hear if you were on hold with the H.R. department, and Adaline asks him to change it to real, old-fashioned jazz — but the moment backfires horribly, because now you’re thinking that this is a guy who likes to play music that Kenny G would sneer at on on a date. That moment is sort of emblematic.

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Part of the problem is that Adaline is a tough character to make sympathetic — she’s roughly 100 years old and clings to old-fashioned formality, but also shuts everybody out because of the dissection thing. She’s supersmart and a bit of a free spirit, and she gets the occasional cute moment of being clever and outsmarting people with her decades of experience. But there’s nothing terribly engaging about her, and the rushed backstory leaves us unable to sympathize with her much.

And meanwhile, the movie’s energy largely goes into crafting adorably off-beat moments, like when Adaline and Ellis go on dates where they visit an old boat discovered in a subway tunnel or an old forgotten drive-in movie theater. Instead of character development or real emotion, we get inundated with cutesy set pieces.

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The real emotion and chemistry in this movie only appear when we meet Ellis’ father William, played by Harrison Ford with an epic beard. Whenever Ford is on screen, the movie shudders to life and shows signs of being the poignant, bittersweet fantasy romance it so clearly wants to be.

Director Lee Toland Krieger, who previously helmed the Sundance fave The Vicious Kind, finds lots of inventive camera angles and shots here — but they start to feel kind of derivative pretty quickly. Every time a stark image pops up, I found myself having a nagging feeling that I’d seen it somewhere else before.

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Fantasies about immortality and eternal youth are usually about being able to see history unfold from a perspective that a normal human lifespan doesn’t afford. The ageless survivor can see change unfolding on a larger scale, and starts to feel apart from other people, who only see one stretch of the road. Often, the fictional immortal is depicted as overly detached or out of touch with normal humanity.

And Adaline, the graceful but self-absorbed woman who never grows older and can’t keep one identity for more than a decade, is sort of the poster-child for immortal detachment. I feel like there could have been a better, deeper version of this film in which Adaline’s decision to set herself apart has real meaning and impact, and the child of the early 20th century finds herself all over again in the early 21st.

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Instead, though, the warbling voiceover talks down to the audience, the lovers go on perfect “offbeat” dates, and Adaline herself never grows into an interesting character.


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com.

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