Published Sep 05, 2013In pedigree, Adore (Anne Fontaine's adaptation of the Doris Lessing short story, The Grandmothers) is comprised of a plethora of feminine and queer deconstructions and discussions.
Lessing (the author of The Golden Notebook and a writer noted for capturing the female experience with overwhelming acuity) has a history of eschewing traditional modes of identity and catharsis, writing about characters who deteriorate as a mode of healing and destroying one's illusions. Screenwriter Christopher Hampton, who adapted her short story, often focuses on the arbitrary, though often rigidly defined methods society uses for categorizing normalcy, providing the perspective of the "other" (women and homosexuals, primarily) while delighting in portraying feminine modes of handling conflict in his writings. This sort of preoccupation should, in theory, align perfectly with Fontaine's history of capturing the subtle, mental tug-of-war present in female relationships.
However, Adore, despite being a cerebral, analytical exercise in complex gender predispositions and expectations, has a strange disconnect between thought and presentation. Its impetus — assessing the generational effects of repressed lesbian desire — is handled quite intelligently (likely confounding or amusing traditionalist heteronormative thinkers), despite ultimately having a weirdly clunky, alienating void where naturalistic human interaction and reaction should, or could, exist.
Childhood best friends Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) have remained entangled for a lifetime. Even through marriage and simultaneous pregnancies, the women have maintained an amiable, almost co-dependent relationship, growing together with shared, unifying ideological stances and morality. Early in the film, spelling out the not-so-subtle subtext a little too clearly, the women joke, "We're not lesbos! How could anyone think we're lesbos?"
Presumably, there's a disconnect between Hampton's magical realist intentions as a writer and Fontaine's cold, on-the-nose handling of the written material. During these early moments, scenes of Roz and Liz smiling at each other as kids or delivering their dialogue as adults with awkward pointedness suggest either an intentionally alienating distancing technique or, more likely, a misread of tone.
This is why Roz's eventual decision to sleep with Lil's son, Ian (Xavier Samuel), while he's over visiting her child (and his best friend), Tom (James Frecheville), feels peculiar and unlikely. Moreover, Lil's decision to give Tom a whirl in response, later talking about it reasonably and rationalizing it with Roz, seems quite surreal.
Obviously, what everyone is concerned with, as it's handled quite cleverly, is the discomforting idea that mothers attempt to create their ideal mate when raising a son. Here, since the women have repressed, unfulfilled Sapphic affections for each other, the boys, emulating their mothers in a traditional, theoretically homosexual fashion (Tom's father is deceased and Ian's is simply a peripheral annoyance), express lesbian desires within an abject heterosexual context. More succinctly, Tom and Ian, identifying with their mothers and having the social freedom to act on straight sexual impulses, idealize and sexualize the ideal mate for their respective matriarchs.
Unfortunately, this concept is quite delicate and, as handled by Fontaine, difficult to absorb and appreciate. By the time these four settle into a routine, which is inevitably torn apart when Tom removes himself from the creepy, borderline incestuous sexual shenanigans and begins dating another woman, the entire story has a bizarrely distancing sensibility that leaves any possible emotional engagement at the door. Similarly, the abstract presentation of a marginal theory to a mainstream audience prone to literal interpretation is likely to result in confusion or defensiveness.
It seems that the formal presentation of this story was an attempt to remedy the selling of an inherently challenging theme. In pushing the audience away and forcing them to interpret the dialogue and the sequences as a metaphor, rather than a human action, Fontaine is asking us to analyze, rather than passively react.
It's a tactic that doesn't quite work, seeing as the reality presented is too closely aligned with our own, making it unclear that this is an exercise in hyperbole and interpretation, rather than one intended to placate or titillate an already myopic audience. (Remstar)