When a film or story depicts an act (or a series of them) that would be considered forbidden, unnatural, or taboo, it is generally followed by a sense that things are no longer balanced; the world is off its axis, and until the transgression has ceased, or reparations have otherwise been made, the chaos will continue unabated. Typically, such actions aren't treated as some sort of fantasy fulfillment, resulting in a comforting sense of serenity and a welcome feeling of isolation that hints at a self-deluded belief in the correctness of the situation. In that regard at least, Anne Fontaine's 'Adore' has managed to find one defining characteristic to distinguish the otherwise unresponsive, flaccid approach to telling a tawdry, tale of two mothers involved in intimate relationships with each other's son.
Inspired by Doris Lessing's novella The Grandmothers, 'Adore' sets its sights on being taken very seriously early on, depicting the small coastal town inhabited by the film's characters as some sort of far-away place where lifelong friends Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) share a bond that is so close they're frequently mistaken for being in a relationship with one another. The fact that they physically resemble one another adds an additional layer to the feeling that unnatural things are afoot. Not long after the film sets up its framework, Roz and Lil are seen watching while their tanned, toned, and now-grown sons, Ian and Tom (played by Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville, respectively) splash around in the surf just beyond their idyllic beach homes, and Roz laughably proclaims, "They're beautiful. They're like young gods," and with that, 'Adore' is ready to jump headlong into its weak, drawn-out tale of forbidden coupling.
Like their mothers, both boys are clearly prized for their physical attributes. But unlike Watts and Wright, the actors here are essentially walking pectorals with just a hint of personality and character underneath. Unfortunately, that personality comes across, in Ian at least, as something slightly sociopathic. Samuel's depiction of lust, longing, and heartbreak all come across in the same frustratingly empty death-stare that, when he finally seduces Roz, results in a brief moment where her brutal and untimely death seems entirely plausible. For his part, Frecheville is even less convincing, as Tom carries a vacant look on his face most of the time. That emptiness of characters results in the feeling that his spiteful seduction of Ian's mom, Lil, is actually filled with more of the director's presence than any other scene in the movie.
But this is supposed to be a serious movie tackling a potentially disturbing and (definitely) icky topic with well regarded actresses in the lead roles, right? So why is 'Adore' so laughably bad most of the time? Well, for one thing, every line of dialogue is spoken and delivered with either the same kind of overwrought passion, or it is comes across as the understatement of the millennium. "We've crossed a line," Lil casually says after both sons have been bedded, but not long after, she's saying things like "I can't remember being this happy," with such intensity that it becomes the film's most ironically endearing quality: the fact that the movie can be so unabashedly committed to its hokey premise, and, at the same time, soberly deliver such lines is actually quite admirable.
The trouble is, 'Adore' and its characters gradually begin to approach the sordid state of affairs as inevitable; as the years pass, their nonchalant attitude toward a situation that's just shy of incest suggests the film has the same kind of "meh," shoulder-shrugging non-thoughts on its circumstances that the characters do. The problem is, their inert reaction to what's going on is the only thing of interest taking place in the entire film – and what's more, it seems as though that aspect was merely an inadvertent bi-product of Christopher Hampton's ('Atonement,' 'A Dangerous Method') writing and Fontaine's direction.
There is some interesting subtext suggesting the various relationships are merely a way for the women to divert the expression of their desire for one another on to their children, and, oddly enough, the same is seemingly true for the young men. Lil and Roz wind up using the assumption they are lesbians to extinguish an unwanted crush by one of Lil's co-workers, while Ian and Tom seem to express themselves more bodily, by alternating between moments of touchy-feely tenderness and angry physicality. Unfortunately, these avenues are left mostly unexplored; as is the more interesting notion that this abnormal arrangement is some kind of fantasy fulfillment for two women combating the societal pressures associated with aging, the expectation that a woman is defined by the man she is with, and, ultimately, ownership of her sexuality. That, too, might have been a compelling path for the film to walk, but instead, the films winds up being focused solely on the idea that the women don't want to stop; they're worried the boys will soon tire and become bored with them. 'Adore' seems to suggest they won't, that this is a lifelong infatuation, which will see the characters wind up as they are so often depicted: segregated from the world, united only in the company of one another, and adrift in calming waters that should otherwise be chaotic.
What makes 'Adore' unique as a film, is also what makes its story so unfulfilling and, ironically, amorphous. It's not quite smut, but it's also not quite concerned with morality either; it never goes far enough in one direction or the other to be distinctive. Instead, the film is so middle-of-the-road, and yet, so deliberate and so polished at the same time, it's like watching a commercial for deodorant or laundry detergent; the only question is what, exactly, is the audience being sold? In the end, the supposed indiscretions of its lusty characters simply become whitewashed by the young men's muddy motivations and the women's pokerfaced reactions in a way that renders the film all but devoid of emotion or signs of authorial intent.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Adore' comes from Paramount as a single 50GB Blu-ray Disc + Digital Copy. There is a handful of previews preceding the top menu, but those elements are also the only supplements offered on this release.
'Adore' is presented with a stunningly clear 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer that depicts the clean, idyllic seaside community the film's characters seem unable to move away from, with exacting detail and tremendous depth. The image is bright, colorful, and precisely handled in a way that looks lively, and yet, fanciful at the same time. There is a persistent halo, or silvery glimmer to everything, especially around the characters during times of sexual bliss, or in the (literal) afterglow of lovemaking. Some of this can be a little overdone at times, resulting bright, shining outline of the actors as they make eyes at one another, but for the most part, it represents the film's tone quite well.
The film's high levels of contrast generate a crisp image that allows for the glowing, dreamy visuals without losing any of the fine detail in the frame. In addition to the consistent presence of facial features, and fine textures, skin tones are rendered beautifully, whether they are cast in direct sunlight, or the murky glow of candles. Black levels tend to be equally strong, resulting in deep, inky shadows and bits of darkness that never swallow up detail. The movie has a clean, white palette, which is presented quite well with this transfer. Colors tend to be fairly simple, but when asked to, they can pop and generate a spectacularly vibrant image. Case in point: the deep blue water surrounding the couples' favorite secluded place.
In the end, the image here is just shy of being perfect. There are some instances where the focus seems to be a little softer than it needs to be, but otherwise, this is a terrific looking transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track admittedly has little to do here aside from ensuring the dialogue is easily heard and distinct. Thankfully, in that sense, the mix comes through remarkably well. Each actor is presented with a striking clarity that remains consistent whether the lines are being spoken in a silent room, or over the din of a noisy party. That level of consistency also helps when the score kicks in, and yet doesn't overwhelm the actors' work.
For the most part, though, this is a film that relies almost completely on dialogue. There are times when atmosphere is present, and the mix does a tremendous job presenting it, but it never feels like it was intended to be the highlight of the scene – which makes any ancillary sound feel incidental and all the more appreciated in its subtlety. Most of the aforementioned sounds resonate from the front right and left speaker, with the occasional bit bleeding into the surround. This is a dynamic sound field that is content to play second fiddle to the lush visuals of the image, and even to the actors' lines of dialogue.
While there are some interesting examples of sound extension, and especially balance, 'Adore' is not a film that relies too heavily on its audio mix. While this could have resulted in the soundtrack winding up feeling like an afterthought, it actually works in the mix's favor, making it stand out for its subtlety, rather than any perceived anemic qualities.
'Adore' does not contain any supplemental features.
Had 'Adore' been clearer in its intent, or had something to say about its characters' circumstances (good or bad), it might have wound up becoming the caliber of film the talent behind it suggests it could have been. Instead of being a compelling drama, splashing around in a moral gray area, the movie is content to be a tacky melodrama that flirts with the idea of becoming all-out smut. Sadly, the story never sways too far from the middle for the movie to morph into either of those things. The result, then, is a tedious, often laughable diversion that relishes its earnestness in a way that suggests the same kind of troubling self-delusion plaguing its characters. It has no supplements to speak of, but it does have a stellar picture and terrific sound. If you're curious, this one could be worth a rental.