Directed by: Anne Fontaine
Premise: Based on the novel The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing. A pair of middle aged women (Robin Wright and Naomi Watts), who have been friends since childhood, take each other’s adult sons as lovers.
What Works: The premise of Adore sounds like the conceit of a porn film or a Saturday Night Live sketch but to their credit the filmmakers aim higher than that. Despite the many problems with this film it is reasonably intelligent and a sensitive portrayal of aging, desire, and friendship. The fact that this movie has a such a provocative premise and treats female sexuality seriously makes it a subversive picture although it would be more so if the plot was better thought out. The strength of Adore is found in its lead cast members. Robin Wright and Naomi Watts give terrific performances as a pair of childhood friends who are confronting middle age. This is the best aspect of the movie. In these moments Adore is able to plumb the anxieties, especially for women, of leaving youth behind and Wright and Watts convey that middle age angst terrifically in their performances.
What Doesn’t: Adore suffers from a number of flaws but its chief problem is the lack of insight on the part of the filmmakers. The premise of Adore is provocative and the opening of the movie sets up the audience for a story that will provide insight into female desire and the way women’s lives, wants, and perspectives change with age. The problem is that the filmmakers don’t go beyond the obvious. In a culture that values youth, aging is distressing and the love affairs of these women are a way for them to stave off reckoning with the inevitable. This is all established in the first half hour and the movie does not go any deeper than that. Adore also has problems with its cinematography and production design. The sets are always spotless and sterile; they look less like homes and more like museums. The cinematography has a similarly antiseptic look. The colors of interior scenes are muted and the exterior scenes of the characters frolicking in the ocean often look like the beauty shots of a Sandals Resort advertisement. These stylistic choices are all wrong for this movie. As a story about lust and sexuality, Adore needs grit. The audience needs to feel the sensual aspects of this movie but they are purged by the filmmakers’ stylistic choices. This also proves to be a rhetorical problem for the movie. As a storytelling rule of thumb, the wealthier and more comfortable the lives of the characters, the harder it is for the audience to feel empathy with them. The women of Adore live in lavish beach front homes in which they lead lives of delicacy and ease while carrying on affairs with each other’s sons. That makes it hard. if not impossible, to achieve empathy with these people, especially when the picture treats the women’s deeper problems so perfunctorily. As good as Robin Wright and Naomi Watts are in the film, the young men they are paired with don’t make the same impact on screen. Actors Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville seem to have been cast less for their acting talent than for their musculature and the two men are frequently indistinguishable from each other. That may be part of the filmmakers’ point but the script gives the male characters nothing to do. For that matter, the script fundamentally fails as a love story. There is no rising action here; in love stories, as in life, it’s the seduction this is most intense but the characters of Adore dive into a socially unacceptable relationship on whim and after a minimum of consternation the bulk of the story is a flat series of episodes, culminating in an ending that is contrary to the momentum of the film.
Bottom Line: Adore is a well-intentioned movie but there are too many fundamental storytelling and filmmaking mistakes. Despite some strong performances there just isn’t enough to this film beyond its provocative premise.
Episode: #457 (September 22, 2013)