Adapted from Doris Lessing’s novella The Grandmothers, Adore tells the story of Lil and Ian (Naomi Watts and Xavier Samuel) and Roz and Tom (Robin Wright and James Frecheville), a pair of mothers and sons living on the Australian coast. Soon enough, after a few lustfing glances and playful exchanges, one evening Tom sees enough to realise Roz is sleeping with Ian, and is suitably emboldened to take his attraction to Lil further.
It could easily be the stuff of farce and it does get sillier but it’s mostly played straight, the only comedy early on coming via the occasional drawled observations of Tom, with Frecheville in the first half of the film bringing the same lethargy and detachment that helped make 2010’s Animal Kingdom so compelling. One of his co-stars in that, Ben Mendelsohn, also features here, as Tom’s father Harold, whose acceptance of a job offer and subsequent departure to Sydney provides the catalyst for much of the plot.
The film is reminiscent of this year’s Breathe In, another beautifully shot and well acted tale of trangressive love, though Adore is a little less earnest and plausible than Drake Doremus’ domestic drama.
The differences between the sons in particular – Tom is easy going, Ian more angry – are drawn well enough, though in giving four characters equal weight the film understandably fails to delve too deeply into the impact of the relationships on any of them. The mothers initially pay lip service to the idea that their relationships may be wrong yet, after a couple of years, it is they rather than their sons who urge a conclusion, believing that the situation is unsustainable.
Even by the end – one character sincerely tells another ‘You’re the only one who’s done nothing wrong’ – it’s unclear whether director Anne Fontaine is aiming for emotional heft or poking fun at absurdity, and the film regularly veers close to melodrama while being tonally uneven. There was plenty of laughter at the screening I attended; whether that was the intention I’m unsure.
This review comes from a screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013 (LFF 2013).