Trying to be provocative with a capital “P,” Anne Fontaine’s “Adore” undermines itself by provoking unintended laughs.
By WALTER ADDIEGO
San Francisco Chronicle
The film has a hot-button subject — two adult women friends have affairs with each other’s son — and two appealing stars in Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, but there’s no way to take it as seriously as it wants to be taken.
The opening sequence traces the remarkably close friendship of Lil (Watts) and Roz (Wright), next-door neighbors on a gorgeous stretch of Australia’s east coast, to their idyllic childhood. Now they have sons (James Frecheville, Xavier Samuel) who are in their late teens, handsome surfers as physically striking as their admiring moms. Roz’s husband, an ambitious academic, is away a lot; Lil is a widow.
There must be something in the summer sunshine (to say nothing of the pervasive air of narcissism), because soon Lil’s son is making love to Roz. When Roz’s boy finds out, he angrily puts a move on Lil, who succumbs, after showing a bit more resistance than Roz.
Soon everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and after some hemming and hawing, they decide to carry on the cozy arrangement. Complications and consequences ensue as the boys eventually move into relationships with women their own age.
Director Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”), making her English-language film debut here, shows something of a tin ear for dialogue, allowing the likes of this:
Roz: What have we done?
Lil: We’ve crossed a line.
Surprisingly, the screenplay is by the usually reliable Christopher Hampton (“Dangerous Liaisons”). It isn’t exactly nonstop clunkers, but he does seem hellbent on soft-selling the inherent absurdities of the situation. There are also issues with some of the characterizations — while the sons seem far from intellectual giants, one of them aspires to be a theatrical director.
Sporadically, director and writer can at least hint at elements from the movie’s source material, Doris Lessing’s “The Grandmothers”: melancholy reflections on the passage of time and a sense that the forbidden affairs are metaphors for the women’s intense friendship.
But there’s so much trumpery on parade, including a relentless air of self-importance, that it’s even hard to simply enjoy the performances of the two stars, who give more than the film deserves.
(At the Leawood.)