Back in a 2012 Huffington Post interview (in support of her current release Can’t Go Back) with Mike Ragogna, singer-songwriter Tanita Tikaram described herself as “very modern” in response to Ragogna’s observation, “So you were born in Germany, you live in the UK, you record in the US, you write in France…you’re a bit of a UN, aren’t you?” Tikaram, as a performer, wanders off the beaten star path, chasing hits, being chased by the paparazzi wearing short skirts and smirks. Even during her brief flirtation with the bright lights and the big city life upon the release of the single “Twist of My Sobriety” from her 1988 debut album Ancient Heart, Tikaram already seemed a step ahead of the female singer-songwriters of the moment, pushing past the veil of fame for something more elusive. I remember catching her on tour a few years after that debut, while she was supporting Everybody’s Angel (1991) – an album that felt like a fascinatingly feminist tribute to Van Morrison – and enjoying the decided disinterest in either “the show” or the “business” aspect of performing onstage. There was an unself-conscious freedom that enveloped her, allowing her to timelessly exist both in the moment, but also at a remove from it, at some point down the road, in a future challenged and changed by the music and her self.
Some sense of that spirit wafts through Blake Lively’s performance as Adaline Bowman in Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline. Fantastic and sentimental, the premise revolves around an accident that befalls Adaline at the precious age of 29. Having already married, birthed a daughter, and lost her husband, Adaline drives through a guard rail, into a river and is struck by lightning, which triggers a biological anomaly (that will be discovered in the year 2035) causing her body to resist the ravages of time. Adaline stops aging, and at first, she’s oblivious to the results of the accident, purposefully ignoring the reactions of others – her peers slipping noticeably, naturally into middle age and her own daughter who starts to look more like a sister than offspring – until, at 45, she attracts the unwanted and imposingly nefarious attention of the government. At that point, Adaline embarks on a distinctly modern phase of her own, adopting a calculated wanderlust, picking up each decade for parts unknown, keeping her own company and counsel, never encouraging intimate bonds with others, except for her daughter Flemming (who gracefully ages into an always charming Ellen Burstyn).
The story, once firmly rooted in the present day, a month before Adaline plans to pack up her things for another change of location, offers a standard romantic plot point straight out of a Nicholas Sparks novel/adaptation – a would-be suitor, Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a hunky philanthropist with the resolve to crack her defenses. His gentlemanly persistence wears her down, although she inevitably retreats when the narrative demands. Yet, to say the film slavishly adheres to the expected beats discounts the modern aspects of Lively’s efforts and the surprising nature of the character.
Adaline is never a woman out of time or somehow trapped in the wrong age. It becomes quite clear that she is uniquely suited to each period she experiences, with a willing mind and the patience to look ahead (she, of course, has nothing but time, right?). She maintains the manners and reserved temperament of a woman born in 1908, but that sensibility, rather than rendering her stiff and old-fashioned, serves as a useful trait for a vigilant woman seeking to stay a step or two in advance of whoever might be lurking in the shadows. Lively subtly, and with a deft degree of offhandedness, grounds Adaline and the narrative, even when it teeters dangerously close to soapy melodrama (involving a past love with a potentially damaging connection to the present). She lets us appreciate the full sweep of Adaline’s historic presence as well as her analytical approach to preparing for the future. Lively and Adaline are modern marvels, not merely because they embrace the moment; they create a cult (in the audience) of followers ready and willing to venture into the next moment, beyond the sentimentality and numbing romantic clichés that might anchor The Age of Adaline in the past. (tt stern-enzi)