Movie review: “Adore” turns taboo into soap opera

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From the September 5, 2013 edition

Films dealing with taboo relationships start off with an added challenge of winning over an audience. Despite strong performances from its two lead actresses, “Adore” isn’t up for this challenge.

It follows in the footsteps of another recent indie, “The Lifeguard,” in not sufficiently setting up the relationships it spends the entire film dissecting.

Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) are lifelong friends who live in a beautiful village on the Australian coast.

Their grown sons, Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) are also close friends and surfing buddies. One wine-fueled evening, Ian makes advances on Roz, culminating in sex.

Tom spies his mother leaving Ian’s room and is outraged. He confronts Lil with the tryst between her son and best friend. Then he seduces Lil. Got all that? I suppose that may seem like a spoiler, but that is the premise of the film.

Director Anne Fontaine lays forth this challenging premise gracefully, leaning heavily on the talents of Watts and Wright. But as the events of these relationships ebb and flow, it edges into melodrama. And that’s where the film loses me, as it veers toward soap opera.

Mind you, it’s an amazingly well-acted soap opera. Watts has beenone of the finest actresses working since “Mulholland Drive” and is considered an awards-season lock for her portrayal of Princess Diana in the upcoming Princess Di biopic “Diana.” Wright recently stole the Netflix series “House of Cards,” and she’s never been better.

But as “Adore” looks at these relationships over the years, it still does too little in the way of setup. An opening montage of a young Lil and Roz just doesn’t cut it.

It is a gorgeous film, even as it lays on its poster image of its four leads on an ocean dock a bit thick. And there’s a steam factor to the sex — although one can’t help but wonder about how this film would be received if the genders were reversed.