Originally titled The Grandmothers, then hitting Sundance as Two Mothers, producers ultimately settled on Adore for their erotic drama starring the always-wonderful Robin Wright and Naomi Watts. Going through multiple titles is something many films go through, but in this case it's almost as if they're trying to run away from something, and that may be the uncomfortable and nervous laughter inspired by the premise, which has two longtime best friends entering into sexual relationships with the other's son.
The very idea of it plays with our sense of morality, our sense of what is sexually acceptable, especially here in America where sex is so often looked at as such a taboo. In her first English-language film, director Anne Fontaine reserves judgment on the women without completely letting them off the hook for their irresponsible actions. The problem lies in Christopher Hampton's script, which never goes into the dark, sordid territory a story such as this demands, and lacks the passion it deserves.
Lil (Watts) and Roz (Wright) have carved out a little corner of paradise for themselves on the picturesque shores of New South Wales. Friends since childhood with a love for one another that hasn't dimmed as they approach middle age, their families are so intertwined it's tough to tell where one begins and the other ends. Liz has been widowed for years, while Roz's husband (Ben Mendelsohn) has just taken a job in Sydney with the obvious expectation that his wife and son Tom (James Frecheville) would join him. But he's seriously underestimated the co-dependent nature of Roz and Lil's relationship, which has them more concerned with one another than anything else. Lil barely speaks to her son Ian (Xavier Samuel) at all. In fact, the two women barely notice their sons until they're blinded by the surfers' glistening abs, "They're like young gods!” they exclaim. Yes, the dialogue is like something ripped from a trashy romance novel, lacking in any nuance whatsoever.
While there's no incest involved on a physical level, the suggestion that emotional impropriety has definitely taken place, and it begins with the fact that both women have raised the other's son fairly equally. They may not have been good mothers in a traditional sense, but in a communal sense they seem to have done a pretty good job. Ian and Tom have grown to become reasonably decent, attractive young men with bright futures. When Ian suddenly makes a move on Roz, she initially resists before giving in, taking advantage of her husband being temporarily out of the picture. Tom, quickly discovering the affair, decides that all's fair and immediately makes a move on Lil.
It's not fair to say that nobody feels any guilt over it once everything comes out in the open; it's just that we never see it. One would think that the first conversation between Lil and Roz after everything came out in the open would be heated, or at least impassioned. But no, that's not the case. It isn't really rational or reasoned, either. When the boys get into a fight, we're left to assume it's over their nailing the other's mom, but that doesn't really make sense. The two remain best friends and seem happy discussing the situation. We're never clued in to what the physical altercation was about, and everything is normal within moments. Too much is underplayed here to be taken seriously, and that extends to later on when Lil and Roz's worst fears are realized and the boys begin to move on to more age-appropriate women.
What saves the film from going totally into Russ Meyer or John Waters territory are the performances by Watts and Wright, really nailing the emotional complexities between these two women who are more like siblings than friends. Wright has a bit more to work with as her character must juggle spousal expectations with her own emotional desires. There's a lived-in, genuine quality to every scene these two remarkable actresses share. Fontaine, who helmed the dreamy Coco Before Chanel, brings some of those surreal attributes to the idyllic setting. She uses the beautiful imagery to perfectly counter the growing chaos as a complicated situation grows messier.
At its premiere in Park City, reports were that the audience was laughing when they clearly weren't meant to be, a fact which perplexed Fontaine at the press conference. A film like Adore should make you uneasy. It should make you feel a little sick at how much damage these characters are causing. It shouldn't leave you smiling, which just goes to show how much of a miscalculation the film turns out to be.