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INDIEWATCH: ‘Adore’ makes adoration creepy, challenging and engaging

Robin Wright and Naomi Watts star in "Adore."

Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star in “Adore,” which was recently released on Netflix Instant. They play childhood best friends who fall in love with each other’s sons, which begs the question “how?”

“Adore” answers in an engaging character study.

The film opens with the girls swimming toward a dock off the coast of Australia. They lift a wooden board to a stash of hidden drinks, and it’s clear this is their go-to escape. Flash-forward to them as adults and mothers at a funeral for Lil’s husband.

Lil (Watts) is devastated as is her son, Ian, and Roz (Wright) acts as a comfort to both — staying close to Lil’s side and stroking Ian’s hair in a wholly motherly way. Roz’s husband, played by Ben Mendelsohn, prompts their son, Tom, to play with Ian after the funeral, and their brotherly relationship begins.

Later, Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) have grown up as surrogate brothers, and writer/director Anne Fontaine is mindful in their introduction. Lil and Roz watch their sons surf and liken them to gods in their physical command of the sport. The four dine and drink together, and mild flirtation grows between Lil and Tom. But it’s Ian’s pained and subtle longing for Roz that sets the plot in motion.

As Ian and Roz begin their affair, Tom makes an advance on Lil, which goes unanswered until he admits he saw Ian and Roz together. I was impressed with Fontaine’s approach and interpretation to this story that was based on “Grandmothers,” a novella by Doris Lessing. Reading the synopsis, I anticipated steamy scenes from the beginning, but each first sexual encounter is not shown. This is a powerful omission as it forces the viewer’s focus on the character study and group dynamics of these four adults.

What really surprised me is how the two women discuss their emotions and courses of action so pragmatically, and whatever misgivings they have about their son’s involvement with the other seems to disappear to avoid hypocrisy. Their relationships evolve, and as “Adore” unfolds, director Fontaine peels back layer after layer of depth to each character.

Robin Wright delivers a powerhouse performance, exacting the intricacies, restraint and inner turmoil of Roz, and I was really taken with Samuel’s execution of Ian. As a viewer, I try to understand a character’s motivations, and looking at Ian’s loss of a parent — and in a sense, two parents to death and grief — it’s as if he fell in love with the one concrete mainstay in his life, Roz. Samuel portrays this with such pained subtlety, and Naomi Watts perfectly exhibits the vulnerabilities of a woman in love with a man half her age.

The cinematography in “Adore” is spot on, creating a fifth character in the miles of ocean and isolation surrounding their island town. This reinforces their insular relationship and ability to fall from societal norms.

“Adore” challenged and fascinated me in its storytelling. Most surprising of all was while I was unsettled and disturbed with the morals of these characters, this film held me until the last frame.

Grade: B+

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.