Adore (2013) / Drama-Romance
aka Perfect Mothers
aka Two Mothers
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Jessica Tovey, Sophie Lowe, Gary Sweet
Director: Anne Fontaine
Screenplay: Christopher Hampton, Anne Fontaine (based on the novella, "The Grandmothers", by Doris Lessing)
Review published September 3, 2013
Adore is the first English-language film to be directed by French director Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel, Nathalie...), adapted from the novella. "The Grandmothers", by Doris Lessing, based on an anecdote told to her by a friend. It tells the story of two lifelong friends in a small beachside villa in Australia, Lil (Watts, The Impossible) and Roz (Wright, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Now in their early 40s, Roz is married to drama professor Harold (Mendelsohn, The Dark Knight Rises), and they have an adult son staying with them named Tom (Frecheville, Animal Kingdom). Widowed Lil also has an adult son staying with her, Ian (Samuel, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse). Just as the mothers are lifelong best friends, so are the young men, who spend most of their time together surfing and sunbathing, and just not taking life too seriously.
All is well and good until Ian and Roz have a moment in which they end up having sex. Tom figures out what's going on, and immediately vengefully lashes by seducing Lil. The women, who end up having a heart to heart about their momentary lapse, decide to quit. But they don't, and eventually, all four decide to be open with each other (though hidden from the rest of society) about their sexual liaisons, with mothers sleeping with their best friend's sons. But complications arise, as the older women feel that, eventually, the young men will likely move on and find "real" relationships, though feelings run deep among them. It's either get out now before someone gets really hurt, or continue on chasing their fantasy.
In some countries, Adore has the ironic alternate title of Perfect Mothers, though to some watching this film, Pervert Mothers might have made for a more appropriate title, as the lusty women can't seem to stop themselves from engaging in carnal pleasures despite knowing that they're screwing up their families, probably for life. Not only are these mothers rather despicable in indulging their fancies, Roz is willing to toss away her marriage in order to continue pursuing her dalliance, but their sons seem to have no scruples about any side relationships they may have as well.
The premise of the film reminds me of the SNL short by The Lonely Island entitled, "Motherlover", in which the singers portrayed by Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake croon about giving the opposite's mother a perfect Mother's Day gift of sex. As funny as that ditty is, Fontaine's film is straightforward and serious about its intentions. It isn't judgmental, and doesn't question the morality of any of the characters, though it does present the immense difficulties in engaging in such partnerships, ultimately calling into question whether all of the guilt, secrecy and gaps in basic understanding are sustainable. Nevertheless, some viewers may find the actions of the mothers to be objectionable, even if they aren't technically incestuous, especially in seeing how little investment and care these characters have for their marriage partners' feelings.
The lead actresses are as terrific as you'd expect, though their characterizations don't run particularly deep. Most of the problems of Adore come from its screenplay, which plays its relationships a bit like a soap opera, where two people can fall in love without much in terms of heartfelt conversations (Lil has an admirer at work who clumsily divulges his amorous feelings in a way most people would not). The characters connect with others seemingly on a whim, and though there are tearful moments and bouts of rage underneath, there's just something too clean, sterile and superficial about the presentation to have us actually feel for the characters except from a distance. The characters of Ian and Tom are given the shortest shrift, as they mostly lay about when not engaged in their other mothers. Despite that, Samuel says much with little, showing an inner anguish that tells us, of all the characters, he is the one who has the most emotions at stake. Frecheville, whose Tom seems to just get it on with Lil out of spite or boredom, comes off like a handsome mannequin most of the time.
Nevertheless, it is beautifully shot by Christophe Beaucame (Mr. Nobody, Paris), and the score by Christopher Gordon (Mao's Last Dancer, Master and Commander) is quite lovely, such that, even if the emotional content is lacking, there is a pleasantness about the film, even when things turn sour. Given the sudsy romantic nature of it, middle-aged or older women are likely the target demographic for the film, and some might even adore Adore. Most men will simply just search for 'a door' -- any door -- to escape this gooey, moody melodrama.
©2013 Vince Leo