They have been close to each other, but now they are close to each other more than ever in their mutual entangled relationship. Anne Fontaine’s “Two mothers”, which was originally titled as “Adore”, is about four people finding themselves entangled in a very extraordinary circumstance, and we observe how the stable equilibrium among them is affected and disrupted by the matter of their hearts as the time goes by. Because of love and friendship, they try to be sensible as much as possible in their absurdly twisted romantic situation, but they only get hurt in one way or the other, and they still do not know what to do except maintaining their latest equilibrium.
Roz(Robin Wright) and Lil(Naomi Watts) have been close friend to each other since they were very young, and their friendship has been deepened along with many passing years. They are still living in their Australian hometown near some beautiful beach as close neighbors, and Roz was naturally someone to lean on for Lil when Lil’s husband suddenly died due to a car accident.
Both of them have a young son, and they are Ian(Xavier Samuel) and Tom(James Frecheville). Just like their mothers, they have been close friend to each other, and Roz and Lil are like mother and aunt to them. When we see these four people having a meal on the terrace, they really look like a family with Roz and Lil as lesbian parents although they are not lesbians and Roz has a husband. Harold(Ben Mendelsohn) does not mind much about his wife spending more time with her best friend than him, and, as a matter of fact, he looks more like a guest when he comes back to their home.
So far, they have been happy to be together, but the trouble begins as Ian and Tom have become grown young men now. Ian becomes attracted to Roz, and he actively approaches to Roz during one late night when Harold is out of the town. Roz resists his approach at first, but the feeling is mutual, and she cannot help herself even though she knows well how unwise(and possibly unhealthy) it is. Technically, they are consenting adults and they are not related to each other, but it is rather disturbing considering how much they have been close to each other like an aunt and a nephew – or a mother and a son, perhaps.
This pseudo-Oedipal relationship can be remained as one night’s mistake, but the situation gets more complicated because Tom happened to see what his best friend did with his mom. Out of spite, he goes to Lil’s house to tell her what he witnessed, and then he also sexually approaches to Lil for, well, getting even with Ian. A funny thing is, this behavior also ignites what has been inside Lil and Tom, and, what do you know, they quickly become lovers just like Roz and Ian.
While Harold moves to Sydney because of his new job, everyone senses the tension between each other, so Roz and Lil finally confess to each other about their problem, but their frank talk does not solve the problem much. Still best friend to each other despite what happened(after all, both made a mistake, didn’t they?), they believe it will be over for all of them once their boys begin to show interest to other girls, so they decide to maintain this new equilibrium between them and their boys for now, but can everyone accept the change they think they will need sooner or later?
Now this sounds like a trashy soap drama story, but the characters are presented as the human beings who are serious about their strained relationships and care deeply about each other. Although we cannot help but be amused by how absurd their circumstance is, their inner struggles along the plot are shown with genuine emotions, and the movie does not resort to cheap melodrama although there are the painful moments of tears and hurt feelings. There is a poignant moment when Roz and Lil calmly discuss about their matter while never bluntly mentioning it; both of them are confused and hurt, but they do not want to lose each other, and they cannot deny that their messy relationships with their sons somehow work and they are happy for that.
Based on Doris Lessing’s novella “The Grandmothers”, and the director Anne Fontaine made a darkly interesting domestic drama with her co-screenplay writer Christopher Hampton, who won an Oscar for his work in “Dangerous Liaisons”(1988). The movie mostly depends on the mood and interactions between its main characters in its languorous pace, and the gorgeous shots of beach and sea on summer days work as the nice contrasting backdrop for its odd, disturbing romance tale. There is a particularly impressive overhead shot looking over the main characters resting on a raft floated alone on the sea, and it tells us a lot about the isolated nature of their intertwined relationships.
The actors took the challenge without hesitation and then give convincing performances subtly revealing the flexible dynamic between their characters. Robin Wright and Naomi Watts(she also participated in the production as an executive producer) are instantly accepted as old close friends who have known each other for many years through their easy rapport on the screen, and these wonderful actresses never step back from showing their unglamorous sides in front of us. Roz and Lil are reminded of how old they are whenever they look at the mirror, and they are ready to accept that the boys will eventually leave them someday, but it always hurts to see someone you love drifted away from you even if you are ready.
On the opposite, James Frecheville and Xavier Samuel are suitably cast as their young male counterparts; I can imagine them living closely with each other in the future just like their mothers. On the fringe of the story, Ben Mendelsohn, who previously appeared with Frecheville in “Animal Kingdom”(2010), gives a little sense of normality to the story as a good father and husband who manages not to get involved with his wife and his son’s personal problem, without having any idea about what is going on between them and his close neighbors.
While the movie maintains its somber and serious attitude, it also slyly injects some humor inside its sensational story, and I was tickled by its several humorous moments such as when Roz and Lil’s co-worker visits Lil to confess his feeling toward her while not realizing that she is not interested in him. While he is frustrated by the impossibility of his love toward her, she is troubled by the stubbornness of her love toward the man she should have not been involved with at any chance from the beginning.
They say the feeling of love is precious, but, despite our reason and intelligence, we human beings usually cannot handle it well as biological entities genetically programmed to be driven by it, and we sometimes become messy and miserable because of that. The sons and mothers of “Two Mothers” eventually come to learn about the incorrigibility of their complicated feelings in the end, but didn’t one old song say love is a tender trap?