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by Peter Sobczynski

"No "Class"
1 stars

"Adore" is like watching a big-screen version of the letters column from "Penthouse," minus the plausible scenarios, likable characters, snappy dialogue and--it must be noted--a general lack of what one might refer to as The Good Parts. This is an extraordinarily dreary and pretentious work that takes what it seems to think is a powerful and provocative premise and then does absolutely nothing with it. The whole thing feels like a collision between "Blame It on Rio" and the lesser works of August Strindberg in which there are no survivors--not the enormously talented and utterly wasted co-stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright and certainly not anyone in the audience.

Watts and Wright play Lil and Roz, two lifelong friends who live next-door to each other in a remote beachfront area of New South Wales. Each comes equipped with a handsome son--Ian (Xavier Samuel) is Lil's and Tom (James Frecheville) is Roz's--and they happen to be best friends as well. With nothing else to distract them--Lil's husband is dead, Roz's is away in Sydney for long stretches of time for work and neither one appears to have any other friends or jobs that require that they turn up for anything other than an early establishing shot to show that they are employed--the two spend all their free time together lazing in the sand, playing cards and dancing the night away, always accompanied by seemingly bottomless glasses of wine and their sons. To outside eyes, this may all sound somewhat unsettling, especially when Roz and Lil are shown watching their sons surfing and comparing them to gods but the current arrangement doesn't strike any of them as particularly odd.

Things kick up a notch one night when, out of the blue, Ian makes a play for Roz and she, after putting up only a token resistance, take the guy that she has known since infancy into her bed. Alas, this transgression is witnessed by Tom and he retaliates by doing the same to and with Lil. Under normal circumstances, such a chain of events would no doubt result in some degree of mutual embarrassment, anger and hurt but after literally a moment's hesitation at best, Roz and Lil decide that this quasi-incestuous arrangement suits their purposes just fine and for the next couple of years, sleepovers take on an entirely new meaning. Inevitably, things fall apart as aspiring theater director Tom bails on Lil to take up with an aspiring actress and Roz breaks things off with Ian to make things even between her and Lil. The two sons eventually begin families of their own but their continued desire for each other's mother proves to be too strong to be denied.

There are so many things wrong with "Adore" but the key problem--the one that would have still doomed the film even if everything else had been spot-on--is that it never finds the right approach to tell its story. With material as potentially off-putting as this, there are maybe two ways in which it might have worked--it could have been done as a raw drama that didn't shy away from the dark and twisted emotions and painful that such an arrangement might inspire (perhaps along the lines of the startling and little-seen British drama "The Mother") or it might have worked as some kind of weirdo sex comedy that took its inherently absurdist premise and ran with it as sort of a feature-length version of that one Lonely Island video. Instead, director Anne Fontaine and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (work from the Doris Lessing novella "The Grandmothers") have attempted to navigate a strange middle road that asks us to take the events seriously, but not too seriously.

On the one hand, we are supposed to accept just how easily and cavalierly everyone is with their rather unique circumstances but on the other, we are then asked to truly feel for these characters when their collective situation begins to go gunny. Perhaps if there had been a single moment in the film in which I genuinely believed in any of the characters or how they supposedly felt for each other, it might have paid off but I never believed in their relationships--either as profound romance or unbridled lust--for a moment. Frankly, Roz and Lil generate more romantic and sexual chemistry between them than they ever manage to muster with their respective lovers, an undeniable fact that the film proceeds to milk for a couple of queasy laughs here and there.

The other key problem with "Adore" is that it is so wildly miscast that the mere presence of the actors undermines the premise at practically every turn. Although no specific ages for the characters are ever given as far as I can recall, it would seem that at the beginning of the story, Roz and Lil are in their mid-40's at least while their sons are maybe 19 or 20 and the story moves ahead in time maybe five or six years by the time it comes to an end. The trouble is that Watts and and Wright (who are 45 and 47 in real life) both look at least 10 years too young for their roles while the guys playing their sons look at least 10 years too old (Samuel is 30 and while I cannot find an age for Frecheville, I would surmise that he is at least in his mid-20's) and as the years go by, none of them seem to age at all. Perhaps this was a conscious choice on Fontaine's part to make the affairs less transgressive in the eyes of viewers but by making these borderline taboo affairs seem more palatable, at least on the surface, she seems to be clumsily subverting the central point of her film, though I suppose that she could argue that it never had a point.

Watts and Wright do practically everything in their power to save "Adore" but what could they have possibly seen in the screenplay to convince them that this was a project worthy of their talents? The film is ineptly conceived, ponderously executed, terribly acted by all but the two leads and contains all the erotic tension of a parking lot being repaved. However, because it has been directed by a woman and tells a story about relationships between older women and younger men, I have no doubt that there will be some people out there who will praise "Adore" almost sight unseen on this basis. To those people, I would merely ask if they would have had the exact same reaction if the film had been about two lifelong male friends nailing each other's daughters. Of course, considering that this film ends with the two sons each fathering a daughter of their own, maybe that will be the focus of the sequel. I can't wait.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24689&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/05/13 23:10:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

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  06-Sep-2013 (R)
  DVD: 10-Dec-2013



Directed by
  Anne Fontaine

Written by
  Christopher Hampton

  Naomi Watts
  Robin Wright
  Xavier Samuel
  James Frechevile

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