Whether by choice or by the fickle nature of Hollywood, many teen stars fade into obscurity after their time in the spotlight. Not Blake Lively: since the end of Gossip Girl, the controversial teen soap that catapulted her to fame in the late-2000s, her star has only risen. In 2022, she consistently makes headlines as a kind of well-liked tabloid figure, known for her (often insufferable) red carpet antics with husband Ryan Reynolds, her show-stopping Met Gala outfits, and her friendships with megacelebs like Taylor Swift.
Her veneer of everywoman likeability, though, hides a body of acting work that is confounding and occasionally brilliant – a list of credits far more fascinating than many other actors of Lively’s milieu. Where one might look at her IMDb and expect to see a laundry list of animated films, superhero sequels and bland adaptations (see her husband’s IMDb page), Lively’s filmography is surprisingly unconventional.
She played an embattled single mother in Ben Affleck’s acclaimed crime thriller The Town, and was widely praised for her role as a surfer being hunted by sharks in The Shallows. She displayed gonzo commitment to her performance as a silver-tongued bisexual grifter in the bizarre and profoundly camp film A Simple Favour. Elsewhere, she has played a conspiracy-theorising assassin and, perhaps regrettably, starred in a latter-period Woody Allen film. But to each of these roles, Lively brings an alluring, witty toughness; a kind of mischievous inscrutability that means that, even when the film lags, she is a joy to watch.
Many of these films were poorly received, but it’s still fairly remarkable that, over and over, Lively continues choosing projects that are conceptually ambitious and likely lie below her pay grade. In terms of former teen stars done good, only Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, megastars-turned-indie darlings, have more interesting track records.
One of my favourite films in the Lively oeuvre is the strange, appealingly melancholy romantic drama The Age of Adaline. In the film, Lively plays the titular Adaline, a woman born in 1908 who, after crashing her car during a lightning storm, becomes stuck at the age of 29. It’s a ridiculous premise, but this elegant, pleasantly self-serious film totally sells it.
For much of the film, Adaline floats through life as a woman with no fixed home and no fixed identity, moving around every decade or so in order to evade FBI interest in her condition, constantly leaving heartbroken lovers and empty houses in her wake. She lives a painfully lonely existence; her daughter – who ages as her mother remains young – is the only person on earth who knows her secret.
The Age of Adaline is sometimes a little hammy – a tad too stylised, with a slowness that nonetheless befits a story about a woman forced to exist alone for decades on end – but for the most part, Lively is perfectly cast as this film’s emotionally distant protagonist.
Adaline’s glamorous version of vagrancy, though, is hardly the main driver of the film. In its second half, The Age of Adaline pivots into a more traditional love triangle romance, conjuring a twist that’s bizarre and heartbreaking in equal measure. I won’t spoil it here, but needless to say, The Age of Adaline wrings a surprising amount of tension and narrative drive from an undeniably convoluted plot thread.
Where lesser actors may have leaned into the hammy B-movie constraints, Lively and her co-stars – Harrison Ford, in a great late-career turn, as well as Ellen Burstyn as Adaline’s daughter – wonderfully underplay their parts. Ultimately, though, it’s Lively who holds the whole thing together, proving her worth as a truly magnetic star with a commitment to the craft that’s elevated every role she’s taken.