If ever there was a film that was destined to be become a cult classic, this is it. “Adore,” a deeply serious film written by Christopher Hampton ("Dangerous Liaisons") and directed by Anne Fontaine ("Coco Before Chanel"), is tailor-made for the midnight screening. It deserves to be watched and rewatched, dissected, laughed at, mocked and quoted.
The premise is simple: Two mothers, played by Robin Wright and Naomi Watts, have been friends since childhood. They have stayed in the same tiny beach town they were raised in and, aside from the sudden death of Watts’s husband years earlier, seem to live a quiet, idyllic life. They swim. They laugh. They drink wine by the moonlight and dance, regularly joined in their sunkissed paradise by their two sons, muscular beach bums with the constant bemused look of male models. Every day, the mothers gaze lovingly at their children as they frolic in the waves. The four are extremely close, and have been for a very long time. So close, in fact, that they can’t resist the temptation of having sex with one another.
Yes, this is a film about illicit mom-love. Based on “The Grandmothers,” a novella by Doris Lessing (included in her collection “The Grandmothers: Four Short Novels”), “Adore” is a lurid fragrance commercial that thinks it’s a complicated moral drama. There is hardly a scene in the film that doesn’t hammer home the central sexual perversity — through a series of passionate embraces and sensual stares — in a way that is overbearing and comical; not to mention there isn't a single shot, cut, or lightning choice that isn’t vapid, boring, and predictable. Nobody told the filmmakers that letting the camera languidly pan over bare butts doesn’t result in depth, but just a series of, we admit finely toned, bare butts.
Lessing’s slim novella is an austere work, and much less forgiving than the film. Hampton’s adaptation aims to capture the simmering tensions of the writing, but Fontaine’s direction constantly undermines his work, scene after scene, as if the two were working on two seperate movies. Hampton, it seems, is attempting to transform Lessing’s work into a slow-boil tragedy, while Fontaine insists on making a tawdy melodrama. These two conflicting visions are what ultimately gives the film its best comedic moments.
These comedic moments, even if unintentional, save the movie from being completely worthless. Maybe “Adore” will be reclaimed as a camp classic, its true intentions less serious than first assumed. There is an audience for this movie, as was proved by the screening I attended, with various snickers emitted from the crowd; it’s probably not the one the filmmakers want. But they’ll accept it. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.