Starring Robin Wright and Naomi Watts as lifelong best friends, each of whom carries on an affair with the other's son, "Adore" manages to be absurd and compelling, spectacularly gorgeous and shamelessly tawdry — and irresistibly enjoyable.
At last winter's Sundance Film Festival (where it was known as "Two Mothers"), "Adore" drew titters that might've seemed inappropriate were it not for the movie's rare and wonderful kinship to the "women's picture" melodramas of yore — films of the 1940s such as "Old Acquaintance," "Mildred Pierce" and "Now, Voyager," all of which, as their fans know, offer ample humor when they're not jerking tears.
It seems safe to say that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford would adore "Adore," which, despite its star power and sumptuous production values, has no theatrical release plans in place for the Twin Cities as yet. It's an audience movie, as proven at Sundance, but its soap operatics should also play well at home; it's now available on demand via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and pay cable.
Adapting Doris Lessing's novella "The Grandmothers," French director Anne Fontaine is further blessed with an Australian seaside setting, two smart and beautiful actors in Watts and Wright, and a pair of ripped young hunks — James Frecheville and Xavier Samuel — who might as well be Dolce and Gabbana models for all they're asked to do here.
Notwithstanding an early scene in which Roz (Wright) and Lil (Watts) admire their beefcake progeny from afar, it's Lil's son, Ian (Samuel), who puts the melodrama in motion by making a play for unhappily married Roz, who reciprocates and then some. As if to get even, Roz's initially outraged boy, Tom (Frecheville), proceeds to seduce the widowed Lil.
Before long, the affairs are not only out in the open, but encouraged all around, as this exceedingly eccentric and sexed-up quartet hits on a new way to keep things all in the family. And then, inevitably, there's trouble in paradise.
Despite a pair of classy turns by the brilliant leads, "Adore" will surely strike some viewers as being beyond the pale. But going too far is precisely what the movie — or melodrama — is all about.
Also new to VOD
Reviewing "Mildred Pierce" in 1945, New York Times critic Thomas M. Pryor pointed his thumb down (the nerve of that man!) but he still managed to grasp the challenge and appeal of the film's genre: "If you can accept [the movie's] rather demanding premise — and there were not a few ladies in the [theater] who were frequently blotting tears with evident enjoyment — then 'Mildred Pierce' is just the tortured drama you've been waiting for."
Why wait? The immortal "Mildred Pierce," like "Old Acquaintance" and "Now, Voyager," is available for streaming via Vudu.
For other, lesser-known classics of the female persuasion, there's Warner Archive Instant, a new VOD subscription service that's full of vintage melodramas, including "I'll Cry Tomorrow" and the lovely, cheesy, tragically underappreciated "My Dream Is Yours," starring a young Doris Day.
At $10 a month, fees for the Warner channel (whose titles include everything from "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" to "The World According to Garp" and "McCabe and Mrs. Miller") may seem steep. But, as any lover of women's pictures is well aware, pleasure rarely if ever comes without sacrifice.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.