Film Review – Adore
There’s a certain type of book and movie I think of as middle-aged male wish fulfillment: an older man seduces and educates a younger woman, introducing her to the ways of love while feeding his own creative drive and sexual needs. It’s a literary fiction standard, and older man/younger woman stories are common in film, where male leads manage to get older, but their co-stars somehow get replaced by much younger models every couple of years. Older woman/younger man stories are often framed in cougar or MILF terms as a joke, except for films like Harold and Maude, where the relationship is awesome, but totally weird. And then there are the dramas, the tragedies. Because nothing from such an unnatural pairing can go right, right? As a middle-aged lady who happens to be married to a slightly younger man, I am the target audience for the new film Adore, directed by Anne Fontaine. Based on a story by Doris Lessing, Adore is the tale of two life-long friends who find romantic solace in each other’s adult sons.
Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) have been best friends forever in a town on the Australian coast, and are so close that Roz’s husband Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) has always felt an outsider to their relationship. Roz and Harold have a son, Tom (James Frecheville), and Lil has Ian (Xavier Samuel), whose father died long ago in a car accident. Tom and Ian are as close as their mothers, and everything is idyllic until Harold takes a job teaching drama in Sydney. Roz and Tom stay behind to clear up loose ends, and find that neither of them can force themselves to leave paradise. What’s keeping them there? Their relationships with Lil and Ian. The four of them are inseparable companions, who are about to become something more. When Ian makes a pass at Roz one night, she does not resist, and things escalate when Tom catches them in the act and proceeds to seduce Lil. The romantic relationships continue for two years before the outside world interferes and hard decisions must be made.
Adore is a beautiful film with gorgeous shots of good-looking people in swimwear on the beach. The women are in their mid-forties and are as beautiful as good genes and Hollywood wealth can make them—although, and this is important, they look like real women who just happen to be crazy beautiful, not like aging divas grasping on to their last vestiges of youth. I usually try to not talk about looks in the movies I review, but I think it is important here. It’s kind of cool to see these women look their age, even if they are still more beautiful now than most of us even aspire to be. And the young men are justifiably compared to Greek gods. Everyone is just so damn good looking. And the sex scenes are tastefully erotic, with the emphasis on beefcake and not boobs. The first half of this movie is a middle-aged woman’s fantasy of being wooed by a younger man. The second half of the film is where the drama happens, because the piper must be paid for all of these good times.
But honestly, this is not my movie. Large chunks of it are long shots of people sitting on the beach and looking thoughtful. And it turns out, they’re not really thinking about anything except each other. Which is boring. None of the characters have any real personality, and the only conversations they have are about their relationships. Nobody does anything even vaguely interesting except for have sex or argue, and even the sex is problematic because of the creep factor. And this film is creepy. Not because two women are having sex with much younger men (I’m down with that), but because two women whose lives are wholly entwined are having sex with each other’s sons. Whom they have known and cared for since birth. It feels incestuous, which doesn’t really seem sexy to me. And when the drama comes, the issues on the table aren’t the ones I really felt should be dealt with. You know, like everyone’s complete self-centeredness, and some really inappropriate parenting of adult children. (As the mother of a 23-year-old, I know you don’t stop parenting when kids reach adulthood. It’s still inappropriate to sleep with their friends.)
I think this film would have been better served by picking one tone and sticking with it: dreamy, erotic fairytale or tense love drama. As it is, it is a beautiful-looking film about self-obsessed people who hang out a lot until other stuff happens. It’s kind of dull and unsettling. I wanted to like it, but it just wasn’t happening for me. It doesn’t suck, and people who like slow-moving, European-style movies about inappropriate sexual encounters are going to love it. So if that is your thing, have fun.