The acronym “BFF” was new to the world when Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing’s novella “The Grandmothers” was written. But she touched on the rewards, temptations and consequences of that sort of all-consuming, enduring female friendship that lasts from childhood through adulthood, into adultery and then grandmotherhood.
It comes to the screen as a high-tone, erotic and faintly feminist soap opera titled “Adore,” an Australian tale that follows two lifelong best friends and comments on both the joys of that closeness, and the perils.
Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) have been neighbors and chums pretty much since they were born. They swim and sunbathe off their lovely New South Wales Beach. They had kids — a son, each — at about the same time. And when something happens to one — Lil’s husband dies — the other is right there, next door, an unwavering support system that has lasted decades.
Roz and Lil still cut striking figures in their swimsuits. They’re close enough to prompt the odd whisper.
“We’re not lezzos, are we?” Lil jokes.
But their relationship changes when their sons, Tom and Ian (James Frecheville, Xaxier Samuel), hit their hunky surfing 20s.
“They’re beautiful,” Roz reflects on their lads. “They’re like young gods.”
Thus does temptation arrive in their Aussie Garden of Eden. The square-jawed boys share intimate wine dinners with their mums, and the wine leads to dancing and we all know where dancing leads. It’s not the widowed Lil who is lured to the forbidden fruit first. Roz, married to an academic (Ben Mendelsohn), is the first to cross that line, with Lil’s son Ian.
That’s bad enough. Their secret doesn’t last, which is worse. And Lil is easily tempted into reprisal sex, which is where that last line is crossed. A lifetime of shared child-rearing is forgotten as the tender touches of mothering become something sexual.
Frecheville and Samuel are limited to moments that reveal how shallow, petulant and arrogant these self-admiring “gods” are at their age. The ladies have a lot more to play here — faraway stares as their characters reflect on the transgression they’re falling into and their rationalizations of it.
Director and co-adapter Anne Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”) wrestles to balance the narcissistic side of feminism, with Roz and Lil seeking sexual validation in their 40s, with the human cost of giving in to impulses and abandoning adulthood / motherhood and its responsibilities. Not everyone will waltz through this interlude with a psyche unscarred.
It’s hard to imagine a gender-inverted version of this tale — two fathers seducing / being seduced by each other’s daughters — as anything but icky or French. But as edgy female wish-fulfillment fantasy, showing that fantasy’s consequences, “Adore” engrosses and engages, never titillates and never betrays even the tiniest hint of revulsion.
Cast: Robin Wright, Naomi Watts, James Frecheville, Xavier Samuel
Directed by Anne Fontaine, scripted by Anne Fontaine and Christopher Hampton, based on the Doris Lessing novella. An Exclusive Media release.
Running time: 1:50
MPAA rating: R for sexual content and language