By Eleanor Ringel Cater
When it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, “Adore” was named “Two Mothers.”
I’m not certain which title is worse, since neither conveys the powerful cultural statement implied by the name of the Doris Lessing book on which it is based.
Her book was “The Grandmothers,” and by calling it that, she clearly points the way to the true societal sin, which this film so fearlessly explores.
The central couple is Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts), who’ve been inseparable best friends since childhood. A rather idyllic childhood, I must say. Their houses sit atop a splendid Australian cliff overlooking an even more splendid bay. They are, in effect, isolated in paradise.
After a brief intro as sun-kissed children, they grow up. Barely minutes in to the film, we are at the funeral of Lil’s husband. Both their sons are about the same age and the women both still live in their childhood homes. They are still just as close; their sons are inseparable, too.
At this point, we’re perhaps meant to think: aha, the old lesbo-story. One husband dead. The other nice, but basically superfluous.
When, at one point, a character who has been pursuing Lil decides he’s been rebuffed because they are gay, his guess is so off-base and so what-the-what??, they burst out laughing.
No, as is revealed within the first 15 minutes, these old pals have crossed a more…insidious?…line. We fast-forward from the funeral about 10 or so years. Roz and Lil are smashing-looking 40-somethings, and their sons — Ian and Tom — are beyond-smashing-looking 20-year-olds.
“Did we do that?” one of the women asks as their progeny frolic in the surf.
“They’re like young gods,” says the other.
And they laugh, as old friends do.
And then, they do something most old friends don’t do. Their sons make sexual advances and before you quite know it, Roz and Ian are a couple as are Lil and Tom. It’s absolutely shocking when one of the boys makes the first move. More shocking still when he’s accepted. But as the film continues, their sexual coupling comes to seem as natural as playing cards together.
The aspect of the film that has stayed with me, however, isn’t the transgressive nature of the sexual couplings, but what happens later, when the quartet split up (maybe for good, maybe not) and resume “acceptable” societal roles. The young men are still very much part of things. That is to say, they are included in the celebrations surrounding a particular wedding.
However, Lil and Roz are relegated to the sidelines. As women “of a certain age,” i.e. over 40 and, even more so, as women without men, they become spectators. The ones who sit politely and watch as others dance. Not excluded, exactly, but reduced to after-thoughts. Welcome presences, but not especially missed should they choose to go home early.
It’s difficult to discuss this without giving away the entire movie. And for many, this aspect will not seem in any way as important as the sexier main plot which, admittedly, is the focus of the film.
So, here is about as good of an example as you’re likely to get of the very subjective nature of writing reviews. “Adore” will stick with me for a very long time, but not, perhaps, for the right reason.
So, you’ve been warned. And maybe, just maybe, intrigued.