Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel
Synopsis: A pair of childhood friends and neighbors fall for each other’s sons.
It might be glib to suggest that Anne Fontaine’s Adore (aka Perfect Mothers) is possibly the only film in cinematic history that will appeal equally to frustrated middle-aged women and 14-year-old adolescent boys, but it’s in keeping with the shallow manner in which the film handles its theme of taboo love. Well, actually the love affairs that lifelong best friends Lil (Naomi Watts – Flirting, Dream House) and Roz (Robin Wright – Forrest Gump, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) pursue with one another’s sons aren’t strictly taboo – they’re not related, after all – but the fact that the women have been friends since childhood and are virtually surrogate mothers to each other’s boy leaves a distinctly incestuous air hanging over the initial clinch between Roz and Ian (Xavier Samuel – A Few Best Men).
Adore’s source material, a novella by Doris Lessing which was actually – unbelievably – based on a true story, takes place in England but for some reason it’s been relocated to a landscape that couldn’t be further from Blighty’s overcast vista. Lil and Roz live in a small town on the sun-kissed Australian coastline. Lil is widowed, and Roz’s husband is working in Sydney in the mistaken belief that she and Tom (James Frecheville) will soon join him. Work is, at most, an infrequent intrusion on long afternoons spent sunbathing on golden beaches beneath a flawless blue sky. The women watch their sons surfing restless waves and marvel at how they resemble young Gods. The pace of life – and the movie – is slow and relaxed. Even when a close relationship is transformed into something entirely different, the pace never changes.
That first encounter between Roz and Ian takes place when he stays over one night after Tom has too much to drink. Tom wasn’t drunk enough to sleep through the night though, and wakes up to get some water from the kitchen just in time to spy his mum creeping out of the guest room with her jeans in her hand. Most hot-blooded lads would wade right in and lump their so-called friend, but after a soul-searching stroll on the beach, Tom heads straight around to Lil’s place where he meets only token resistance after putting the moves on her. And once both affairs come to light you’d expect Lil and Roz’s relationship to become just a little strained, but after the briefest of heart to hearts things continue as before, but with only two beds to be made each morning instead of four.
The seismic shift in their relationship creates barely a tremor in this golden quartets’ dynamic; the life-changing enormity of the decisions they have taken seems to pass them by, and the languorous, idyllic lifestyle continues, undisturbed by neighbourly or familial inquisitiveness. They exist in a kind of cocoon, a golden, rapturous isolation symbolised by the floating pontoon upon which they lie in companionable silence. When, eventually and inevitably, the eye of one of the boys is caught by a girl of his own age, a sensible conclusion to the situation is arrived at which sees the women, conscious of the fact that their relationships with the boys are unlikely to survive the fading of their beauty, sacrificing their happiness.
Any film requires some level of conflict, but that which is found in Adore is so anaemic – and belated – that it feels as if we’re forever hanging in a kind of stasis. We seem to spend ages looking at characters so sketchily drawn they appear shallow and superficial, gazing reflectively into the middle-distance as they dwell upon a distraction that, more often or not, they choose not to share with one another or the audience. The performances at least are worthy of praise, although the young men, saddled with both the deliberate fickleness of their screen ages and the shallowness of Fontaine and Christopher Hampton’s script, are overshadowed by Watts and Wright, seasoned actresses who squeeze every last ounce out of their juicier roles. The location photography is simply stunning, but good acting and nice scenery are scant compensation for poor writing and stubbornly unlikeable characters.
(Reviewed 10th May 2015)