Opens Fri., Sept. 6 at SIFF Cinema Uptown and Sundance Cinemas. Rated R. 110 minutes.
There are worse reasons to see a movie than the spectacle of Naomi Watts and Robin Wright sunning themselves in bikinis on a raft, each accessorized with a buff young Australian stud. Called Two Mothers when it screened during SIFF last spring, this adaptation of a Doris Lessing story tantalizes with its Oedipal displacement: Each mother begins a fling with the other’s 18-year-old son. It’s totally inappropriate, but not quite incest. Then, by mutual assent, these covert affairs drag on for years (and I mean drag). Fathers are mostly absent from the melodrama: One’s dead, leaving Lil (Watts) a widow, and the drama-teacher spouse (Ben Mendelsohn) of Roz (Wright) soon departs the scene.
And what a scene it is. Filmed in a beach colony overlooking the Tasman Sea north of Sydney, the movie is full of pounding surf and golden sunsets—like the jacket art for a romance novel. The heaving tides and musky suntan oil practically demand transgression, and neither woman seems inclined to resist. (The sons, played by Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville, don’t figure much in the decision-making; lounging around shirtless and available is their primary function in the plot.)
Are Roz and Lil fools, predators, MILFs, or what? Adore never really gets a handle on their behavior. English screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liasons) expands the timeframe from Lessing’s 2003 novella Two Grandmothers, and French director Anne Fontaine (My Worst Nightmare) is nothing but generous toward her two stars. Both look great in one of the rare movies to be shot in 35 mm film these days. But the story only unfolds from shock to acceptance to soap opera. It needs to get smarter after the initial sex, but the opposite happens. Watts and Wright are left with exchanges like “What have we done?” “Crossed a line.” Yes, ladies, we can see that—now what are you going to do about it? That question really applies to Hampton and Fontaine, and they don’t seem to have any idea. With all the swimming and surfing, I kept hoping for some sharks to attack, but they sensibly stayed away.