Throw a couple of 40-something women into affairs with hunky, college-age guys, and you’ve got a Lifetime movie. Make those women lifelong best friends who are bedding each other’s sons, and you’ve got one for, what, the Cougar Channel, maybe? Cast actresses with the skills that Naomi Watts and Robin Wright bring, give their obliviously icky story some arthouse visual lyricism, and you’ve got “Adore.”
Watts and Wright play Lil and Roz, friends whose comfortable life on the idyllic Australian coast has taken a sad turn at the outset, as they gather for the funeral of Lil’s husband. Fortunately, Lil has that sturdy gal-pal bond to see her through, even if she does have trouble opening her heart again. Then there’s the work of mothering, of course, to keep them occupied — or not, as the two have all kinds of time to laze around on the beach and gawk at the surfing studliness of their now-teenage sons. “They’re like young gods,” purrs Roz. It’s like that old General Foods International TV spot with latte-sipping BFFs gushing about dreamboat waiter “Jean-Luc” — with a dash of borderline incestuousness, just to spice things up. Again: ick.
When Roz’s husband (Ben Mendelsohn, “Animal Kingdom”) comes home with news of a job offer in Sydney that conveniently makes her unhappy, the taboofest kicks off straightaway. Roz takes a late-night guest-room tumble with Lil’s son, Ian (Xavier Samuel, “The Twilight Saga”). Angry after catching a glimpse of this, Roz’s boy, Tom (James Frecheville, channeling Andrew Shue on “Melrose Place”), runs next door and gets together with pent-up Lil. Story logic would seemingly dictate that the morning(s) after would be filled with self-loathing and explosive recriminations. Nope, not much of that — just some polite discussion about lines being crossed, some adequately played emotional confusion from the women, and subsequent general agreement to keep at it and live contentedly in the moment. (The guys get a scene or two to share what they’re feeling, but for the most part they’re boy toys in the truest sense, buff props who leave the pensiveness to the ladies.)
European director Anne Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”) has traded in this sort of arty naughtiness before: Her erotic thriller “Nathalie . . .” was remade as the Julianne Moore-Amanda Seyfried peepshow “Chloe.” (Here, Fontaine shares writing credit with fellow prober of the provocative Christopher Hampton, of “Dangerous Liaisons” fame. They adapted the story from Nobel laureate Doris Lessing’s novella “The Grandmothers.”) But “Adore” takes this penchant to ridiculous extremes. The story does get around to some fallout eventually, with Lil and Roz recognizing that maybe their affairs can’t go on indefinitely — not because of the whole second-mother dynamic, mind you, but because they’re getting a wrinkle or two. Just one more touch of “realism” in a sexual melodrama played so straight that it’s nuts.