Review: Adore (Family Romance: Enter With Caution)

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A French/Australian coproduction, Adore is as much a moving add for Australian tourism as it is a recommendation to avoid the natives.

Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) have been friends since childhood and have grown gently into mothers and wives on their blessed South Whales beach. Lil hosts the wake for her husband at her enormous glass home with a view that evokes thoughts of the great beyond. Roz comforts Lil as their sons bond and recover—it’s a slight turn in the scrip that explains their brotherly relations, and the chemistry between the four that slowly rubs away any need for Roz’s husband (a great Ben Mendelsohn).

The four have an understanding…and Lil and Roz have the kind of magnetic bond everyone renames in jealousy. When Roz asks her husband if he thinks they’re lesbians, he says “it wouldn’t’ make any difference,” indeed the clearest statement on the kind of profound connection only old friends can share. Such an orbit excludes others.

At 18, their sons are muscular and attractive, “young gods” one describes. Ian (Xavier Samuel as Lil’s son) and Tom (James Fracheville as Roz’s son) surf together and share homes. Like their mothers, they’re siblings in spirit. Roz catches Ian smoking on the floating barge in the water and requests a drag—their chemistry is furtive and dangerous, naughty in a way that inspires discomfort. As comeuppance, Tom approaches Lil. Strife and happiness share beds.

Watching younger men have sex with older women isn’t troubling—indeed the film’s quite discreet about it—the part that provokes reservation is the quasi-familial relation these four share. Adore could only happen in a culture undisturbed by the potential of sexually active parents. Director Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) typically has a “less is more” style in her explorations of self-possessed women. This makes her adaptation of Doris Lessing’s story “The Grandmothers” feel like a good pairing of artist and content. (Don’t let that title mislead you.)

The lovers’ days move forward, sexy, languid, picturesque, while they protect gingerly the secret they’d work more to share than to hide—these homes are already tucked in warm, nest-like insularity. Theirs resembles a permanent vacation, which eventually resembles an elected purgatory. As Roz predicts their sons are “bound to lose interest,” it turns out her prediction is for the audience.

Adore shares in a uniquely French dramatic sensibility. It asks you to interrogate the danger of the situation as if that could inform your humanism: Is every member of this love nest a sensibly moral and intelligent adult? Is each aware his/her situation is too challenging for the social fabric to embrace? Or are these mothers deeply confusing their sons? Regardless, they know they’re doing something they can’t discuss outside their (literally) glass houses.

Eventually you’ll sense the twisted politics of the blended family at play, and if you’re familiar with that brand of discomfort, the smell of it in the water won’t lure you deeper in. Depicted believably, painfully, and poignantly, we could reread this as a horror story—this could be the Winter Romance Caroline Schumacher (Cindy Grover) pined for in Network, and she’s fortunate she missed it.

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