ArtsATL > Film > Review: Eye-pleasing “Adore” takes star actresses, a scandalous premise and turns the tables

Review: Eye-pleasing “Adore” takes star actresses, a scandalous premise and turns the tables

Naomi Watts (left) and Robin Wright star in "Adore."
Naomi Watts (left) and Robin Wright star in "Adore."
Naomi Watts (left) and Robin Wright star in “Adore.”

An erotic female fantasy with one foot tentatively perched in reality, “Adore” exists somewhere on the spectrum that includes the “Twilight” and “Shades of Grey” trilogies. Only this movie derives from a novella by an actually good writer (Doris Lessing) and features actually good actors. They’re Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, and if they don’t exactly transcend the sometimes silly material, they give it their best go.

Watts plays Lil and Wright is Roz, best friends since childhood and living in perfect, neighboring houses overlooking a gobsmackingly gorgeous ocean cove in Australia. Lil works for some sort of yachting enterprise and Roz manages an art gallery — you know, the sort of scenic jobs that add to the pervasive visual opulence of the film. (Not that I’m complaining; the New South Wales tourism board certainly isn’t.)

Anyway, Lil’s no-count husband dies unexpectedly, leaving her with young son Ian. Roz has her own son, Tom, and an almost-but-not-quite interesting husband named Harold (Ben Mendelsohn), a theater professor. Don’t concern yourself too much with him, because the movie doesn’t. Little Ian and Tom muscle up and get replaced as adults by actors Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville. These young dudes are skillful surfers who spend all their time together and seem to have no interest in any local girls. (No, it’s not what you think.)

When mama Roz, watching the boys skim the waves, says, “They’re beautiful, they’re like young gods,” the only proper response is, “Um, duh.” (The screenplay is by Christopher Hampton, who will be remembered for “Dangerous Liaisons” and not for this.) In a sandy arcadia that seems oddly empty of girls the boys’ age — except when needed to fill a party scene and embody a tiny bit of conflict in the movie’s third act — Ian and Tom start boffing their moms’ BFF.

But how can this be?!? “The whole thing is unacceptable,” Lil tells Ian, before sighing and diving under the sheets for another round with Tom. Well, at least she’s a widow. Nobody seems bothered by the fact that Roz is athletically cheating on her husband.

The setup raises unavoidable questions. What would the movie be if only one of the women started getting it off with the other one’s son? What if one or both of them had never lost the baby weight years ago? What if they weren’t blond and blue-eyed like Watts and Wright, who look as much like Aryan sisters as best pals? And how would this play out if any of the characters displayed a distinctive intelligence or unique psychological perspective, instead of all of them just being attractive and nice?

I know it’s not my job to second-guess or rewrite the story the filmmakers have given us, and yet … these characters are so geographically and genetically blessed that there’s hardly any drama. The script even has husband-father Harold remove himself from the picture in no-conflict fashion, never getting a whiff of his cuckolding by the neighbor kid he helped raise. The movie attempts some last-act friction, as Roz and Lil nobly step aside and encourage the boys to find more age-appropriate mates. But the poor girls they end up with are clearly such temporary place-holders that they might as well be wearing stick-on name tags.

If it sounds as if I didn’t enjoy “Adore,” that’s not exactly true. It’s easy on the eye and undemanding, and Watts and Wright are always rewarding to watch. They’re … MILF-o-licious. And you have to give it up to director Anne Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”). She completely reverses the “male gaze” (a.k.a. ogling) at female beauty found in 99.9 percent of movies. Here it’s the guys’ bare butts that make their rumpy-pumpy cameos. Oh, okay, Princess Buttercup — oops, I mean actress Wright — gamely displays her perfectly toned, butterscotch tush for posterity, but she’s outnumbered two to one in the bare facts.

“Adore.” With Robin Wright, Naomi Watts, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville. Directed by Anne Fontaine. 110 minutes. Rated R. At Lefont Sandy Springs.

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