Okay. Let’s just take a moment to describe the basic premise of Adore, which plays like a fantasy novel for mothers. Two women, Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) have been friends since before they can remember. Both of them live on the beach in a small Australian town, and each has a twentysomething son (Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville). Roz has a husband (Ben Mendelsohn), while Lil is a widow. Oh, and before the 30-minute mark hits, they’ll each start a relationship with the other’s son.
I know some of you just said “what?” while reading this, so I’ll repeat it. These 40-year-old women start having sex with their best friend’s son, someone they’ve known their entire lives. And they do it almost at the same time. Sure, woman starts this about a scene or two before the other, but it’s almost immediately that both women are romantically linked to the other’s son. Yes, Roz is still technically married at this point, although her husband, conveniently, has recently been given a job in Sydney, meaning he’s largely out of the picture. Fantasy. Novel. Come. To. Life.
Apart from the inherent “ick” factor to this setup, the main question one has to ask is exactly why these two men would begin a relationship with people almost twice their age. This is a question that doesn’t receive an answer. Instead of exploring some sort of deep-rooted psychological issues, or even addressing the “why” at all, the film sidesteps the issue completely and just hopes that we accept this preposterous premise at face value.
I’m sure for a small, niche audience, this film will be right up their alley. For the majority of people, it’s incredibly difficult to think that this idea is in any way likely. And because it’s so unbelievable — if not a touch creepy — none of the emotional poignancy that Adore attempts will hit home. Granted, there’s not a lot of that to be had even if you can wrap your head around the central idea, but any attempts will fall flat if you can’t do that.
If the film has a bigger sin than that, it’s that it’s incredibly dull. There’s nothing emotionally to compel you to it, and there aren’t even many scenes of great drama. The characters handle the situation they find themselves in far more maturely than you’d expect. They sit down and discuss it maturely, and while they initially think that ending it right away is the best way to go about it, they eventually decide against that and continue on with the relationships. The only time at which the film even approaches the point of being interesting is near the end, and by then it’s far too late.
Lost in the endless sea of ridiculous, unexplained and dull plotting are two performances which almost elevate the material to a level where it’s worth seeing. Wright plays a more logical, stoic character, while Watts is the more emotional of the pair. The roles are underwritten and never really approach the quality that would warrant the hiring of these two actors, but both Wright and Watts try their best. It’s all in service of a terrible story, but at least there are a couple of positives to take from the film.
Setting your story largely on a beach is also a good idea, as it allows for some gorgeous scenery shots when we’re not filling the screen with the tripe that the filmmakers would like to call a plot. Some of the shots in Adore look really nice; it’s just that these are mostly ones which don’t feature humans. In fact, apart from an attempted late-game redemption — where actual drama almost seeps through — the occasional pretty shot was the only thing keeping me focused on Adore. I would have preferred a nap.
Ridiculous premises aren’t new to cinema, but the good films explain why things are happening or at least do something with the ideas they present. Adore does neither. It doesn’t attempt to justify its fetishistic plot, and it doesn’t do anything unique with it, either, except perhaps that its characters are more mature and levelheaded than they rightly should — which, ultimately, detracts from any drama. It’s a film to explore a particular desire; it’s portraying a fantasy and nothing more.
If you don’t happen to either be in your 40s and hope to sleep with your best friend’s 20-year-old child, or a 20-year-old child who wants to sleep with a parent’s best friend, you’re really going to have a difficult time accepting the sheer ridiculousness of Adore. It contains a couple of performances which are good but just serve to showcase how terrible the rest of the film is and how poorly their characters are written, and it has a couple of nice shots of the scenery, but it’s a fantasy movie for a specific niche audience, and if you don’t fit into that group, it’s pointless to even try to sit through it.