– Summary –
Director : Anne Fontaine
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Robin Wright, Naomi Watts, Ben Mendelsohn, Xavier Samuel, James Frechville, Jessica Tovey, Sophie Lowe, Gary Sweet.
Approx Running Time : 110 Minutes
Synopsis: Two best friends, Lil and Roz, become entangled in illicit affairs with each others young sons, testing their friendship and that of their offspring.
What we think : Meandering, leaden story about illicit love and emotional revenge, Adore is something of a career misstep for Aussie actress Naomi Watts, who, along with Robin Wright, deliver terrific performances in roles that have a vaguely incestuous flavoring to them. While the subject matter is perhaps not to everyone’s tastes, and the two young boys involved lack gravitas, the film’s salacious draw-card of maternal romance will no doubt draw in some eager viewers. This won’t matter – Adore is limp, flaccid film-making, and the only thing hard about it all is giving it a recommendation.
Controversial subject matter has long been the domain of cinema, although perhaps less so now thanks to the proliferation of the Internet, which makes once taboo topics even less so. Adore (previously known as Two Mothers, and Perfect Mothers) features a rather unconventional plot in terms of mainstream film-making, with the relationships between two best friends and each others’ sons central to the story. No doubt John Cho would have something about the MILF aspect of this film, but the end result of this melancholy, occasionally melodramatic movie is one of awkward, almost excruciating reluctance to keep watching.
Best friends Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) live near each other on the New South Wales coastline, Roz with her husband Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) and their son Tom (James Frecheville), and widow Lil with her son Ian (Xavier Samuel). When Harold is offered a career-advancing position at a Sydney University, he leaves for a few weeks to settle into the job. In the meantime, Roz finds herself beginning a relationship with Ian. Tom, who is best friends with Ian, is angry at this, and decides to embark on the seduction of Lil, as a way of seeking retribution. From there, the two relationships are tested as both Roz and Lil decide to try and find their sons younger women to be with.
Subject matter notwithstanding, Adore has several key problems that prevent it from being the controversial film it wanted to be – or at least was aiming for. Neither the two younger male leads, Twilight’s Xavier Samuel or James Frechville, are great in their parts; they can neither act nor appear to be interested in what’s going on, and considering they are crucial to the plot (at least, their emotions, anyway) this leaves the film to hang on the performance of Watts and Wright. Together, Watts and Wright feel like an old cinema couple. They’re engaging, believable and do the script justice, even though Watts’ doesn’t appear old enough to have a son of the age hers apparently is. Wright’s taciturn, occasionally impish performance is a delight (albeit an achingly creepy one), and of the two relationships the film portrays, hers is the one I thought more realistic. Watts does well with her role, but against Frecheville’s sullen, inadequate acting, there’s nowhere for her to go. Aussie viewers will spot Home & Away starlet Jessica Tovey as one of the younger girls in the film, while House Husbands star Gary Sweet pops in and out as a potential suitor for the widow Lil. Poor Ben Mendelsohn is hopelessly miscast as Roz’s husband, Harold. I imagined he’s supposed to be this fuddy-duddy college professor, but he feels more like some homeless dude Roz picked up one day and who never left. There’s no spark between Mendelsohn or Wright, and it’s little wonder they drifted apart.
The film’s direction wavers between adequate and irritating. The use of the NSW Northern coastline, where the characters reside, is excellent – the long, sandy beaches and the crystal clear blue waters are as inviting as they always are, yet there seems to be an intentional pallor of disquiet, almost irritation, across the visual palette. The dull grey of melancholy sweeps through the night, the day, and the entire film – it’s a stylistic choice, to be sure, but given the lack of enthusiasm the film already holds, it just makes watching it all that much harder. The way Anne Fontaine uses the camera is commendable, although her choices of editing feel…. off, somehow, as if she’s trying to maintain the focus on all four characters at once, when she should have perhaps just centered on one at a time. Crowd scenes, or scenes with more than two characters, feel flat and uninspired, lacking urgency or a sense of place; it’s a concern when you find yourself wondering exactly where in the location the characters are, and how they correspond to each other.
Adore just doesn’t seem to want to entertain; I say this with kindness, considering the subject matter is probably more inclined to shock and disgust than make one clap and cheer, but the overall feeling I got from Adore was one of almost disinterest. It’s as if the film-makers were too concerned about offending everyone that they watered the thing down somehow, tried to make it “acceptable” for this kind of story to occur. In doing so, they have neutered any energy or emotional connection the audience has with any of the characters. Did I want to be offended? Perturbed, even? Salaciously aroused? If I did want to be, Adore left me hanging. It’s a film with plenty of opportunity to say something interesting, yet it fails at every turn to do just that. I hate to say this about a local production (C’mon Australia, can’t we make good quality films as well?) but Adore just went nowhere, offered little, did nothing, and provided only boredom.