2013 - 100 minutes
Directed by: Anne Fontaine
Written by: Anne Fontaine and Christopher Hampton; based on the novel by Doris Lessing
Starring: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frencheville, Ben Mendelsohn
It’s a victory for “Adore” that’s its matter-of-fact presentation of completely improper and just plain icky sexual relationships between a pair of mothers with each other’s sons feels organic. But stretching May-December romances through years of narrative and 110 minutes of screen-time proves to be unsustainable. Lingering too long with a pensive gaze on the players only gives us more time to concentrate on how objectionable and ridiculous their actions are.
Lifelong friends Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) live in a postcard-perfect Australian coastal town, spending most of their downtime sipping wine on each other’s decks or lounging at the protected beach. They each have jobs and there are other inhabitants of the community to interact with, but most of the time the women are in their own private paradise with Roz’s son Tom (James Frecheville) and Lil’s boy Ian (Xavier Samuel). The women note how the strapping teenagers have grown into surfing “gods,” their gazes suggesting more than motherly pride.
Lil had been widowed when the children were very young and Roz’s husband Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) takes a job in Sydney with the plan of moving his family. But Roz and Tom stay behind, deepening the seclusion of the foursome. Ian soon professes his love to Roz, who gives in to sexual desire and soon after, partly out of retaliation, Tom makes a play for Lil who puts up little resistance before succumbing.
The couples fall hard and fast, with little conversation of how wrong the situation is or strained emotional melodrama. The women rationalize their actions by figuring the boys will get tired of them soon enough. Perhaps there are also some suppressed feelings between the women as well, who have to convince others they aren’t lesbians, and even though they admit to an experimental kiss they once shared. Maybe this is just another trial in their research. Whatever it is, it feels good and they don’t want to stop.
Wright and Watts give fine performances and bring an air of believability to their character urges, a sense of distant longing fixed in their expressions. And let’s face it, if you’re a teenage boy hooking up with a friend’s mom, you could do much, much worse.
“Adore” also looks beautiful, the idyllic landscape shot in 35 millimeter creating an almost surreal storybook setting where you can feel the salty sea breezes. What’s lacking however is any cinematic provocation from director Anne Fontaine. Playing everything so straight helps sustain an illusion of acceptability, but it robs the film of any energy or bite. Even as years go by and lives get more complicated the proceedings retain a sense of emotional malaise that is never heightened. You could argue that’s the point, but it’s tonally off.
This should be a film and a subject that inspires discomfort or forces us to wrestle with our own views. But in the end I found myself not really caring how things ended up or having any desire to reflect on what I had seen.
© 2013 by Blake Crane