Director: Anne Fontaine
Starring: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville
Adoration is a French-Australian co-production, and the first English language film of French director Anne Fontaine, best known for Coco avant Chanel. Based on Doris Lessing’s play The Grandmothers, it tells the story of two life-long friends, Lil and Roz, who live in an idyllic northern NSW beach town. Lil is a widower and Roz’s husband is away a lot on work, so mostly they live an isolated life with just them and their two sons, Ian and Tom.
One evening, after a few too many drinks, Ian, Lil’s son, makes a move on Roz. When Tom sees his mother coming out of Tom’s room with her jeans in her hands his response is to go straight over to Lil’s house and sleep with her. After initial tensions, the two mothers and sons decide that they are actually quite happy with the arrangement so they continue merrily with this strange, insular existence. But eventually their situation is challenged as first Ian and then Tom pursue relationships with women their own age.
The plot for this film sounds like something from an American Pie style sex comedy, but Fontaine’s film is dead serious, possibly too serious for its own good. There are no (intentional) laughs here. Adoration desperately wants to be provocative, in a Lolita kind of way, but despite all its seriousness, it lacks emotional realism. The scenario should be one which creates incredible emotional stress and tension between these character. It is one thing to fall for your friend’s mother or son. It is another thing to watch your friend engage in a relationship with your son or mother. But for much of the film these murky waters seem to be navigated with unsatisfying ease by our quartet of characters.
This lack of realism extends to other elements of the story as well. The turning point comes when Ian moves to Sydney for a short period to take a position directing a Sydney University theatre production. This revelation that Ian has always wanted to be a theatre director seems completely inconsistent with a character who up to this point does not appear to have had an expressive or artistic bone in his body.
It is refreshing, however, to see a film which is built around two central, complicated female characters. Particularly two middle aged women. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright put in stronger performances than the material here may have warranted. As Roz, Wright carries the picture. She is the only character who understands the untenable nature of their arrangement and seeks to act responsibly. Wright also puts in a valiant effort at speaking with an Australian accent, with just a couple of tells which only an Australian ear would pick up to give her away.
Released in Australia under the title Adoration, the film was initially to be called The Grandmothers and has been released in different international markets under the titles Two Mothers, Perfect Mothers and Adore. This suggests indecision in how to present and market the film, which is not surprising given its tricky subject matter.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean