Adore

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This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Adore
Year of Release: 2013
Rating: R for sexual content and language.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Much review. Such spoilers. Wow. (Read on, but stop at the last paragraph if you don’t want to know how it ends.)

What do you get when you take the incestuous coming-of-age premise of Flowers in the Attic, subtract the abusive grandmother, and move the setting from an old gothic mansion in Virginia to the cerulean waters of New South Wales? Adore, apparently.

Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star as lifelong best friends Lil and Roz, who live in neighboring HGTV Dream Homes on the eastern coast of Australia. The film opens at the funeral of Lil’s husband, Theo, who leaves the two women (along with Roz’s husband, Harold) to raise their young sons, Ian and Tom. In Theo’s absence, Lil and Roz encourage their sons to cultivate a relationship with one another, which deepens as the years go by.

In a time splice to an ethereal Phillip Glass-esque piano piece (Australian composer Christopher Gordon is actually responsible for Adore’s score), Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) paddle into the waves as boys and emerge as men: strong, chiseled, glistening men. Their mothers watch newly spellbound from the shore, noting that their surfboarding sons now “look like young gods,” which is a totally normal observation to make about your children, right?

After a comment like that, it’s easy to see where the rest of the film is headed. Harold (Ben Mendelsohn), whom Roz couldn’t be less interested in if she tried, announces that he has just accepted a drama professorship in Sydney. But Roz laments that this change would mean moving away from her cozy seaside utopia. No one is prepared to give up the long nights of wine, cards, and provocative dancing, and so poor Harold’s is left questioning the nature of Lil’s and Roz’s relationship and trekking to Sydney solo. Additionally, the unattached Lil must ward off the advances of John Locke from Lost (seriously, how is that not Terry O’Quinn? the actor is actually Gary Sweet) who eventually assumes that Roz is her partner. And though the two women aren’t sleeping together, Harold and Saul aren’t entirely missing the mark.
The longstanding tenderness of this “modern family” coupled with the lean, tan stuff of Harlequin Romance fantasy comes to a head one night when Ian dares to make a move on Roz – and Roz reciprocates. Tom, who watches Roz sneak out of Ian’s bedroom in the middle of the night with her jeans in her hand, puts two and two together quite quickly. A few days later, Tom manages to seduce Lil and reports his vengeful conquest to Roz, earning him a furious slap.

This is where the group dynamics get particularly interesting. Lil and Roz confront each other, but the discussion isn’t at all what you’d expect: there are no angry words exchanged, just the brief recognition that “it needs to stop.” Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t, and Lil and Roz finally admit to one another that they’ve never felt happier. Nothing – not even affairs with each other’s sons – can shatter this bond of sisterhood.

Critic Christy Lemire called this film “good trash,” and I get where she’s coming from. The scenery and eye candy are close enough to savor, while the melodrama remains at a safe distance because it’s not happening to us. But as someone who has always been drawn to material that examines a close-knit group under a microscope (think Virgina Woolf’s The Waves, Sheila Kohler’s Cracks, and yes, even Flowers in the Attic), I thought there was more here than just fantasy pap. Despite the luxurious high that these affairs bring Lil and Roz, both women recognize the need for their sons to find “real relationships” with women their own ages while combating their own fears and realizations associated with aging. When they finally put a stop to things, Roz transitions back into a stern maternal figure whom Ian now resents, further blurring the line between mother and lover.

Things go south after a number of years, of course, but not among this group of four. As Adore concludes with the recycled image of Lil, Roz, Ian, and Tom sunbathing on their old dock in the middle of the Pacific, it becomes clear that after the ruin of their conventional lives, all they have – for better or worse – is one another.

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