I suppose only a Frenchwoman would have the gumption to direct a movie about two best friends who each give birth to a son and then end up having an affair with said best friend’s progeny (ugh, what a biology term). Anne Fontaine, whose only other major work has been Coco Avant Chanel, is just such a Frenchwoman. In the highly illicit and controversial Adore, Fontaine wields Christopher Hampton’s (best known for writing Atonement and A Dangerous Method—though it should also be noted he wrote Mary Reilly, just because it was during Julia Roberts’ purgatory phase) with careful ease. Based on a novella entitled, ahem, The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing, who has been around the block long enough to have lived in Iran when it was still Persia and therefore obviously knows something about being a cougar, milf, gilf, etc., Adore is one of the most thought-provoking films to have been released in 2013 thus far.
Somewhat perversely, the original title ideas for Adore were Two Mothers and Perfect Mothers. The fact that it was changed to Adore is indicative of the temperate portrayal—considering a subject matter so delicate—of the passionate, yet calculated affair between Roz (Robin Wright, who pulls off a rather convincing Aussie accent) and Ian (Xavier Samuel), the son of Roz’s best friend, Lil (Naomi Watts). When Roz’s son and Ian’s best friend, Tom (James Frecheville), discovers Roz slinking out of Ian’s room one night, he seeks vengeance by starting a forbidden tryst of his own with Lil.
Although the premise of the novella is much different in that both Roz and Lil’s marriages fall apart, Adore still manages to maintain some semblance of a believable back story. Friends since early childhood, we are introduced to Roz and Lil as young children sneaking a bottle of liquor to amuse themselves in the quaint milieu of New South Wales. One in the first of many superb transitions, we see Roz and Lil transform from girls to women in one swift film cut. Now in attendance at the funeral of Lil’s husband with their two boys, we see that Roz is still “happily” married to Harold (Ben Mendelsohn), a professor who later ends up getting offered a teaching position at the university in Sydney.
Harold naturally assumes Tom and Roz will want to accompany him to Sydney, not anticipating their hesitancy to leave New South Wales. Giving Roz time to mull over the prospect, Harold departs for Sydney to get settled into his new environment. But what he unwittingly ends up allowing is the seduction of Roz by Ian. Though their sudden attraction to one another may come across as somewhat superficial, one might argue that superficiality is simply the Australian aesthetic. Their stoicism and calmness is something Americans may never be able to understand.
Just when you think the premise of Adore can’t get more disturbing, it does. We’re not talking incest or anything, but when Roz and Lil actually end up becoming grandmothers, the story takes a turn for the utterly macabre. But somehow the clear blue sky and oceanic backdrops make it all seem somehow less sinister. And so, Fontaine has achieved the incredible feat of making such an inappropriate romantic concept seem, well maybe not acceptable, but at least…palatable.