Twisted “Adore” fails to tantalize

As its best-friend protagonists fall passionately in love with each other's grown sons, “Adore” scores points in the risk-taking arena, and its lead performances create some engaging intrigue. But tonal problems prevent “Adore” from succeeding as either the wicked farce or the provocative emotional drama it should be.

Director Anne Fontaine, making her English-language debut (her French credits include “Coco Before Chanel”), and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (whose adaptations of tangled-relationship dramas include “Dangerous Liaisons” and “A Dangerous Method”) are the misfiring talents behind this adaptation of Doris Lessing's novel “The Grandmothers” — reset in a gorgeous Australian seaside town.

The film combines a sophisticated Euro-romance with a romp in paradise that proves too sunny in this tale of forbidden love.

Widowed Lil (Naomi Watts) and married Roz (Robin Wright) have been best friends since childhood, and their close camaraderie, beach-style casualness and godlike looks are paralleled in the best-bud dynamics of their strapping surfer-dude 20-ish sons.

Suppressed longings underlie the surface, however, and when Roz's drama-teacher husband, Harold (Ben Mendelsohn), is away in Sydney, Lil's son Ian (Xavier Samuel) seduces her. In response, Roz's son Tom (James Frecheville) visits Lil for reciprocal sex. Lil's resistance collapses quickly.

“We've crossed the line,” Lil tells Roz, a remark that prompts several unintended chuckles. But everyone is happy with the four-way arrangement, which is viewed as an almost logical extension of the Roz-Lil friendship. Two years pass.

Eventually, Lil examines her 40-something visage in the mirror, and the women realize their young men will soon move on. Heartache results.

The movie is braver and less predictable than standard big-screen romances, and Fontaine's navigational skills keep the story flowing.

But the filmmakers play it straight and soft with a story that requires edge and insight. This, along with a prevailing superficiality, dooms the movie's chances of succeeding as a perverse dark comedy or an emotionally complex domestic drama.

There is little evidence of these relationships purportedly resulting in meaningful love, and no sense of the characters' deeper desires. The foursome is too self-indulgent and shallow to inspire serious viewer investment, although Watts and Wright convey on their faces the joy, passion and sadness that Lil and Roz feel.

Had their characters been given a chance, the drama might have aptly ruffled our comfort zones. Instead it just slides by easily.

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