Rough winds do shake the buds on every picturesque plant along Adore’s Australian shoreline, but the eternal summer sought by its naughty quartet won’t fade if they can help it. Making a total farce of the ultimate MILF drama in her English-language debut, French director Anne Fontaine serves up blustery gusts and blinding rays like metaphorical candy, visually matching a one-note, moral tug of war to everything else in this sustenance-free soap opera. The setup, as one character eventually realizes, “couldn’t be simpler”: Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) are lifelong friends and neighbors who’ve grown uncommonly close, and who each begin drinking from the fountain of youth by sleeping with the other’s barely legal son. “They look like young gods,” Roz says while gazing out at her son, Tom (James Frecheville), and Lil’s boy, Ian (Xavier Samuel), two ripped surf bums with a bond akin to that of their mothers.
The first mistake made by Fontaine and screenwriter Christopher Hampton is that they expect Adore’s pretty, provocative pieces to do all the work, as if a Shangri-la setting, Nancy Meyers-esque set design, two ace actresses, and a helping of mommy porn will automatically add up to a movie. Instead, it all adds up to jarringly episodic, make-it-stop absurdity—a work that’s deadly serious and yet so goofily unbound that, in some scenes, incest truly seems like it’s on the scandalous menu.
The film’s only two points of interest are the platonic love story between Lil and Roz (who are often questioned about being “lezzos” and briefly ponder the notion themselves), and the specter of time that hovers over the women and the boys who love them. For instance, when Roz’s husband, Harold (Ben Mendelsohn), announces he’s taking a new job in Sydney, one that would relocate the family, he becomes a kind of pseudo-symbol of menopause—a ticking clock threatening to change Roz’s lush and fertile world forever. It’s intriguing until Roz suddenly cuts loose her partner of 20 years, and the abruptness of the choice reflects every one of Adore’s free-for-all developments. Couplings, injuries, marriages, and even babies come and go with the finesse of a tidal wave, and some of the edits are so hilariously on the nose and grace-deprived that walking out on the film is warranted (one particular cut from Ian ramming Roz against a wall to Lil riding Tom in her bedroom is an irredeemable howler).
Only Pedro Almodóvar could sustain this kind of manic, high-concept melodrama, and it’s a pity he wasn’t the one to get his hands on the rights to Doris Lessing’s The Grandmothers, the short story on which Adore is based. The blueprint of Lessing’s lean, risqué tale is so poorly padded that every event-dividing discussion plays like histrionic filler, achieving the seemingly impossible feat of making Watts and Wright look boring while acting their asses off. “Life is just a bowl of cherries,” croons Mary (Jessica Tovey), a theater actress with whom aspiring impresario Tom inevitably cheats on Lil. It’s a carefree, dead-on tune for this shameless tale of hedonism, yet it calls to mind another that told this very same story, in a way that was loads more entertaining and intentionally funny.