Sometimes, a movie’s subject matter can be so off-putting that you are unsure if you are reacting to the production or the premise. This is the case with Adore, a wretched excuse for quasi-MILF empowerment that sees two unhappy women (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright) hooking up with each other’s sons (James Frecheville and Xavier Samuel). Ewww.
Roz (Wright) is married to Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) but he soon takes a job in Sydney, leaving his wife behind to explore her BFF’s offspring, Ian (Samuels). Similarly, Lil (Watts), a widow, takes up with Tom (Frecheville) and it’s not long before said affairs start complicating things. While it sounds like the stuff of turgid melodrama, director Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) does a good job of making things appear organic and matter of fact. Sadly, it can’t solve the problem at the core of author Doris Lessing’s novella (the script was written by a man — Christopher Hampton).
For some, movies are about escape. For others, they portray portions of fictional life that allow us to see reflections in ourselves and our circumstances. Adore does neither of these things. Instead, it merely gussies up pseudo-incest to make it more palatable to the How Stella Got Her Groove Back crowd. The notion that women need men — in this case, much younger men — to add meaning to their maturing years is a philosophical agenda more indicative of a CougarLife.com commercial than a major motion picture. It suggests that sex is a cure all, a way of making a widow forget the grief she experiences while a harried housewife indirectly challenges her insensitive, disconnected husband via humping some kid.
We’re supposed to see this through a veil of realistic revelations, each one centering on how such casual carnality leads to a kind of inner awakening. The boys go on to other relationships, most of which fail, complementing the fairytale belief that knocking boots with your buddy’s mother will be the end-all-be-all of coming of age experiences. True, Fontaine and Lessing finds ways to make their movie palatable, but when you think about the rash of real-life statutory rapes that occur around the world every day, celebrating them (or something similar) as a kind of personal liberation seems specious. In fact, everything about Adore challenges its own existence.
Watts and Wright are hobbled by dialogue so dopey that they barely register as characters. Instead, they come across as willing participants in someone’s idea of A-list lewdness. As for our “golden gods,” both Samuels and Frecheville are forced to deviate from the path most young men in this position would take (lots of high-fives and “who’s hotter” comparisons) to try and bring some ethics to the mix. It never works. Instead, we get another example of a writer reimagining female friendship as unexplored lesbianism and a mad dash to defeat menopause via frisky, illicit fornication. For many, this will resonate with deep, inner meaning. For others, the setup will destroy any interest they have in seeing where these wanton women and their lustful desires take them.
With a subject as divisive as this, it’s not hard to see how someone could either love or loathe something like Adore. It’s shrouded in good intentions and interpersonal potential. By reducing all the issues down to a case of copulation, albeit set against a backdrop both sumptuous and superficial, Fontaine turns her intentions laughable. Most boys dream of being guided through the ways of love by an older, more experienced partner. Leave it to a cinematic visualization of same to destroy that hormonally-charged hope once and for all.