Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) fall in love with each other's teenaged sons Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville). Afraid of facing the ire and judgment of their insular seaside community, the two affairs continue over the years in secret, until their discovery threatens to tear apart the new lives and families of the young men, who must eventually choose between following a well-worn path, or following their true desires.
Review by Louise Keller:
Melodramatic with a plot more suited to a TV soapie, Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Doris Lessing's 2003 novella The Grandmothers is overblown and totally unbelievable. Directed by Anne Fontaine, who is also credited for the screenplay, the problem lies not only with the subject matter of two best friends with intimate relationships with each other's teenage son, but the way the story is told. It is a real pity because some of the elements, including the drop-dead gorgeous Australian beach setting and the lead performances, are top drawer. Even as a 'guilty pleasure' experience that equates a holiday page-turner, the film is wanting.
Lust or love? Love or Lust? The cougar theme is introduced after the establishment of the rock-solid, close relationship between Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) - first as children, then as mothers to teenage sons. 'They're like young gods,' they tell each other as they watch their athletic, good-looking sons conquer the waves in the surf. The beach plays a key role in terms of ambience and setting with much time spent swimming and sunning on the floating pontoon, where Lil and Roz shared their secrets as young girls.
Having established Lil's widowed status and the fact that Roz's absent husband Harold (Ben Mendelsohn, credible) has just been offered a new job as a drama teacher in Sydney, it is understandable that the two women and their sons, who are also close friends, spend a lot of time together. The lesbian theme is touted. But the flirtatious way that Lil and Roz behave with Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) goes beyond the pale - touching hands, dancing and exhibiting inappropriate late night behaviour that simply does not ring true. So when Roz utters the words 'A line has been crossed' after she and Ian, followed by Lil and Tom become intimate, the sentiment sounds ridiculous. Lil and Roz are mirror images of each other - in lust with the other's son and 'feeling good'. What is good for one must be good for the other.
Watts is especially good: vulnerable, feminine, unsure and then seizing the moment. Wright's accent wavers somewhat as she conveys an enigmatic persona who denies her husband's longing for a 'permanent wife'. As the two sons, Samuel and Frecheville are excellent, although Fontaine's direction never allows us to believe in the sexual dynamics between the parties. It plays like tawdry sex-on-screen.
As soon as we hear would-be-actress Mary (Jessica Tovey) singing 'Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries' and watch Tom's mesmerised expression, we know that the Days of the Cougar are numbered. Sophie Lowe has a thankless role as Ian's love interest. The sequence of events here goes from the ridiculous to the ultra ridiculous. But that is the problem throughout and all potential dramatic moments are casually tossed away, quashing any emotion. This is uncharacteristic of talented screenwriter Christopher Hampton, whose Dangerous Liaisons remains one of my all-time favourites. Dangerous Liaisons this is not. Worthy of mention, though is Christophe Beaucarne's beautiful cinematography and Christopher Gordon's diverse and melodic score that both deserve a better showcase than this.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Doris Lessing's story (said to be based on a true story) is set in England. Luxemburg-born director Anne Fontaine resettles the characters in an Australian coastal village, but her European sensibilities come through everything: location, set dressing and mise en scene - and this creates a cultural vacuum. That vacuum is deepened by the sense of the characters living in a removed reality, only rarely in contact with the world. It's idyllic for them, but ultimately unreal for us. A lovely isolated hillside retreat for home, a beautiful sea, pounding surf, a sweeping beach... and nothing to do but walk it or lie on it or swim from it.
Their world seems to hover between their own fantasy and the castrated culture which Fontaine creates. A nothingness envelops them.
To make it even harder for us to connect, Fontaine has made casting choices seemingly driven by actors she respects and not by actors who would be better for the role. These decisions dog the film throughout. The irony is they are all indeed terrific actors. Naomi Watts and Robyn Wright can't be faulted in delivering their characters, Lil and Roz, lifetime friends and neighbours. But they simply don't convince as mothers of 20 year old men -opposite Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville - and later as grandmothers.
It is also sad to report that Christopher Hampton (with Fontaine's co-operation) has written a screenplay that is below par, offering vacuous lines and an adaptation of the story that irritates us rather than illuminates the human condition.
The best thing about the film is Ben Mendelsohn and his character Harold, Roz's husband. (Lil's husband is dispatched early.) Mendelsohn breathes life into every scene. And Chris Gordon's evocative, multicoloured score is a jewel in the film's paper crown.
The emotional and psychological elements of the story of a sexual quadrangle between mothers and their respective sons holds much promise and I'm sure the real story would have been quite fascinating as a dinner table topic. But for cinema, we want metaphors and meaning. The apple cut in four in one scene, when each of the four characters picks up one quarter (but doesn't eat it) is far too shallow and manufactured to count.
One sure test of a film's power to engage is how well it plays: Adoration plays like a slow three hour movie.
Published March 27, 2014
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ADORATION: DVD (MA15+)
CAST: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Sophie Lowe
PRODUCER: Philippe Carcassonne, Barbara Gibbs, Michel Feller, Andrew Mason
DIRECTOR: Anne Fontaine
SCRIPT: Christopher Hampton, Anne Fontaine (novel by Doris Lessing)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christoph Beaucarne
EDITOR: Luc Barnier, Cainwen Berry
MUSIC: Christopher Gordon
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Annie Beauchamp, Steven Jones Evans
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 14, 2013
SPECIAL FEATURES: .
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
DVD RELEASE: March 26, 2014