Review: “Adore” (***½)

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Naomi Watts, James Frecheville, Robin Wright and Xavier Samuel in “Adore”
“Adore,” premiering at Sundance with its original title “Two Mothers,” is an Australian and French film from director Anne Fontaine. Based on the British novel “The Grandmothers” and possibly known to most as ‘the movie where the two moms sleep with each other’s kids,’ “Adore” is a strangely well-executed film about desire, boundaries and consequences.

Naomi Watts and Robin Wright play Lil and Roz, life-long best friends who’ve been together since as long as they can remember. In a beautifully bright, dream like sequence at the opening of the film, we see them as young girls playing with one another gleefully. They grow up, get married and have kids, but their sisterly love for one another only grows stronger. “We’re not lezzos, are we?” Lil jokes.
The pair lives next door to each other, and while Lil is a widow, Roz is married. Lil and Roz spend their days with their sons, Ian and Tom, who are best friends themselves. It isn’t long before the rapidly maturing boys start to grab the mothers’ attention in more ways than one. “They’re like gods,” Roz tells Lil, in awe of the boys. As Roz quickly dismisses any possible signs of flirtation from Lil’s son, desire grows, and it’s these two who cross the line first. Roz’s son Tom catches the two and doesn’t hesitate to tell Lil. Before long, the unthinkable unfolds as both mothers find themselves in full-on sexual relationships with their best friend’s son.

There is a shocking lack of judgment for the characters in “Adore.” Anne Fontaine holds back on melodrama and gives us a sort of ‘what-if’ situation that is massively intriguing. To my surprise, the story is less about the drama between the four main characters than it is about how the world keeps interrupting what they have going. Instead of boring us with mothers and sons fighting, Fontaine treats the relationships of the two ‘couples’ as such. At points, “Adore” glides over conflict a little too swiftly, not giving the audience much time to react. The film never lags and consistently surprises. Fontaine respects her characters and never looks down on them, as most would. Watts and Wright are fantastic here, blending desire and eroticism with hesitation and confusion. The boys, played by Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville are also good, but have much less to do, as the story belongs to the two women. 

Shot on location in beautiful coastal Australia, the bright blue-green water and constant hum of ocean breeze make for a fantastically memorable backdrop. This surprising, performance-driven drama doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects and isn’t afraid to offer up lots of food for thought. “Adore” is a strong, uncompromising film that delivers far more than its bizarre premise may suggest.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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