“They’re like young gods” says Roz (Robin Wright) to her best friend Lil (Naomi Watts) as they admire two young men coming out of the ocean, their perfectly sculpted bodies glistening under the bright sun of a New South Wales beach. The lustful comment and the giggly reaction might have been taken as a wonderful example of mature women’s self awareness as sexual beings, if it wasn’t for the fact that the two young men in question are their own sons.
We learn that Lil and Roz have been best friends since childhood, having shared moments together as wives, mothers and in the case of Lil, becoming a widow. Through an effective prologue we see their entire lives pass by in the same idyllic locale, which one would be tempted to call a paradise if it weren’t for the fact that its isolation seems to lead these women to believe that what happens here is acceptable because they think of this place as an exclusive world upon itself.
One night, when Lil’s son Ian (Xavier Samuel) stays at Roz’s house, he ends up kissing her. She hesitatingly accepts and then decides she will spend the night with him. Upon discovering this, Roz’s son Tom (James Frecheville) decides that the only course of action is to go to his best friend’s house and sleep with his mother. Soon the two women must come to terms with the hell they’ve unleashed by deciding to pursue relationships with each other’s offspring.
Directed by Anne Fontaine and based on a novella by Doris Lessing, Adore is a perplexing work that often promises more than it can deliver. Because it’s centered on a taboo subject, it sometimes feels as if it’s about to take soap opera turns which never really come to happen and every element in the film is delivered with such a matter of factness that we can’t help but want to be seduced by it, but there is something that still doesn’t quite work.
At the core of the film we truly have two tremendously good performances by Watts and Wright, who year after year seem to become two of the greatest, and most underused, living actresses. Watts brings her usual sense of luminosity and charisma to Lil, as we come to understand that she has always looked up to Roz as a figure to keep her centered (unsurprisingly we never really learn much about their own families). One of the film’s oddest and most pleasant subplots has a bachelor named Saul (Gary Sweet) reveal his love to Lil. At that moment she chooses to remain silent and almost literally hide under Roz’s skirt. She blushes as her friend takes on the role of the adult in the situation and gently asks Saul to leave her alone.
If it wasn’t for the fact that in a different scene we see Lil practically melt in a puddle of jealousy as she sees her paramour dance with a younger woman, we would think that Lil is unable to feel. Very few actresses are able to become whole sexual beings onscreen in the way Watts does and she helps us understand how is it that Lil became so overtaken by the thrill of lovemaking with a man half her age.
Wright too, turns Roz into a woman in full control of her sexuality. We see her refuse her husband’s (the always wonderful Ben Mendelsohn) wish to have her move to Sydney with their son and we understand that she is a being who can see her life without any companionship, except that of her son and her best friend.
It’s no surprise that on many occasions people assume Lil and Roz are lesbian lovers, what’s surprising is to realize that they love each other so much that once they actually tried it. This is where Adore truly excels; despite the unconventional life choices made by its characters, the film is a very powerful story about women finding the strength to send all the world to hell and live the lives they choose to live. The problem is that nothing else in the film lives up to this premise.
Fontaine seems merely satisfied with having her movie linger between scandal and hedonism (Roz wonders if the truth is something people should be proud of), often framing her scenes like Ingmar Bergman movies, but without any substance. Sometimes the film’s matter of factness can be taken for indifference, which makes us wonder why we should care enough to invest time with these characters. It’s a shame that the director didn’t try to create a movie as wonderful as its two lead actresses.
Adore is presented in a stunning high definition transfer which highlights the beauty of the setting while allowing the leading ladies to show off her imperfections like badges of thesp honor. The only extra in the Blu-ray edition is a theatrical trailer.