An outrageously soapy film that is at times penetratingly amusing, Anne Fontaine’s Adore delves into some rather prickly terrain with lush cinematography, lots of sex and plenty of conveniences. The muggy theatrics come based on Doris Lessing’s novella The Grandmothers.
The good news about Adore is that it attempts to chart waters that are often ignored in motion pictures. Its main characters include two mature women and they are allowed to be sensual and passionate without having to be tethered to some other prototype. It’s still sadly natural for today’s scornful press to label them “cougars” or “MILFs,” of course.
Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) have been best friends forever. They grew up in a town in New South Wales that is about as close to perfect as possible. They seemingly share every evening together. Lil’s husband Theo dies in a car accident, leaving her to raise her son Ian (Xavier Samuel) alone.
Roz’s husband Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) is out of town a lot and her son Tom (James Frecheville) also hangs around. Many unsaid feelings bubble to surface during one evening as Ian sleeps with Roz. Everything changes, especially after Tom and Lil also enter a sexual relationship that blossoms into something more.
There is no shortage of issues in Fontaine’s English language debut, but much of Adore is sublimely and absurdly French. The setting is implausibly beautiful, which matches the “young gods” of Ian and Tom quite well. Little is done to hide this fact, as the two young men spend the majority of the film sans chemise.
There is a sense that the premise must be seen to be absurd, but Fontaine doesn’t take it that way. She and screenwriter Christopher Hampton handle Lessing’s material earnestly, which makes this dip into the pool rather shallow. Not much is done to explore character motivations and little points to what some might consider the “severity” of the situation.
But could it be that Adore finds little “wrong” with what happens over the course of its 111 or so minutes? Perhaps Fontaine doesn’t spend time evaluating her characters because the beauty is in the passion Liz and Roz feel and in the rejuvenation they discover in the arms of their young lovers.
Viewing it through that lens doesn’t negate the fact that much of this 2013 flick really is an outrageous soap opera. The entanglements weave through the years, even after Tom and Ian try to move on to more “age-appropriate” relationships only to still find the lure of the beach too much to resist.
Little is done to explore what’s left in the wake of these dirty dealings. Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps the self-involvement of this passionate quartet veers so close to the ultimately narcissistic that the painful paths walked by Mary (Jessica Tovey) and Hannah (Sophie Lowe) don’t matter much.
The four sun-kissed heroes spend time in isolation in love with each other and away from the finger-waving drumbeat of society. Fontaine explores the seclusion in a way that doesn’t always work, but Adore at least respects its fantastical situation enough to resist the crush of sanctimoniousness.
This is an energetic, sexy, tacky movie. It doesn’t hide and it doesn’t preach, but it’s also so absurdly foamy that it’s impossible to take the least bit seriously. The best advice: brew a strong cup of coffee, slip into a snug housecoat and get set for an opulent and preposterously sandy yarn.