Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Sophie Lowe, Gary Sweet, Jessica Tovey
RunTime: 1 hr 51 mins
Rating: M18 (Some Sexual Scenes and Coarse Language)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Official Website: www.adoremovie.com
Opening Day: 14 November 2013
Synopsis: Nobel Prize for Literature winner Doris Lessing’s beautiful and heart-wrenching story of two lifelong friends who fall in love with each other’s teenaged sons. Two Mothers is an erotic tale of misguided love and a celebration of the enduring nature of female friendship. Roz and Lil are the best of friends, and have been since childhood growing up as neighbours in an idyllic beach town. As adults, their teenaged sons have developed a friendship as strong as that which binds their mothers. One perfect summer the boys, along with their mothers, are confronted by the simmering emotions that have been mounting between them. Deeply emotional, Two Mothers is a story of family, sensuality, compassion, morality and above all love.
The Doris Lessing novella ‘The Grandmothers’ on which this movie is based told the story of forbidden love between two women who enter into relationships with each other’s sons, but however intriguing that might sound to you, Anne Fontaine’s adaptation of it is otherwise dull and uninvolving. Taking the high-concept premise too literally, it forgets to answer perhaps the most fundamental question - just why would two attractive middle-aged women who seem perfectly well-adjusted defy the very basics of social norms and indulge in such illicit pleasures?
The fault is as much Fontaine (the French filmmaker making her English language debut here) as it is its screenwriter Christopher Hampton. Indeed, in adapting Lessing’s tale for the big screen, Hamption demonstrates none of that signature flair so evident in films like ‘Atonement’ and ‘A Dangerous Method’; instead, the writing here feels leaden and clunky, stuck in the kind of dialogue that you would expect lifted from the pages of a book. Not only that, the pace is ultimately too stultifying to engage, trapped in its own self-seriousness without any awareness of its own ludicrousness.
Pardon our disbelief, but little that happens rings true. So what if it opens with Lil’s (Naomi Watts) husband’s funeral? It’s not as if how Lil or her son Ian (Xavier Samuel) seem to care at any other point in the story. So what if Lil and her best friend Roz (Robin Wright) harbour some sort of lesbian yen specifically alluded to at the beginning? It doesn’t seem as if they share any sort of spark - except with their respective sons - as the movie progresses. But most importantly, so what if Ian and Tom (James Frecheville) are their flesh and blood? Neither Lil now Roz behave like mothers towards either of them at all, their idea of bonding simply lounging around in their gym-toned bodies along a sun-kissed bay along the coast of Western Australia.
It is Ian who first gets in the sack with Roz, the latter’s husband (Ben Mendelsohn) out of town for a new posting he has just gotten at a university teaching drama in Sydney. Then Tom, stumbling upon their late night tryst, decides to do likewise with Lil. And just like that, the mothers start their sexual relationship with their respective sons, without any hint of compunction of their actions. Those looking for some meaningful exploration of Oedipal sexual attraction should simply look elsewhere; for more than half the time, Fontaine is simply content to let these four characters indulge in their inter-generational coupling without any hint of interruption.
Only in the last third does the narrative bring in an added layer of complication in the form of Tom and then Ian’s more appropriately aged other half, which prompts Roz to re-examine their relationships. Even then, it’s too little too late - though the film tries to make the point that their passion for each other ends up snuffing out their capacity for other romantic interactions, you’ll find yourself hardly invested in the lives of four shallow individuals who after all seem to be content with sunbathing and surfing all the time.
Not even the sincere performances from Watts and Wright do much in redeeming the movie from its own implausibility. Most of the time, either actress is called only to look good against their much younger counterparts Samuel and Frecheville - and that’s a particular pity for Watts, who must have believed in the material to also serve as producer here. Compared to Samuel, Frecheville gives his character more depth, but the Australian actor is also hemmed in by a script that goes nowhere.
There is but one standout scene that comes right at the end, when Lil reflects on the weight of their own actions and how it has changed each one of them in perpetuity. Unfortunately, it is but one poignant moment in a movie that otherwise rings hollow, whether in the characters that inhabit it or the relationships that they share. Well-intentioned as it may be, Fontaine’s Hollywood debut is ultimately caught amidst cross-cultural barriers - after all, we can imagine how the French might have added a lot more skin to at least engage or distract you from its far-fetched premise.
(Despite good performances from Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, this is a well-intentioned but far from perfect drama built on a high-concept premise that ultimately fails to convince)
Review by Gabriel Chong