Set against the gorgeous backdrop of the northern New South Wales coast, Adoration follows the lives of Roz (Robin Wright) and Lil (Naomi Watts) over the course of many years. We are first briefly introduced to them as teen girls, and watch as they grow up together, marry, have sons, and remain the closest of friends. Roz is there for Lil when Lil's husband dies suddenly, and their two sons - Lil's son Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Roz's son Tom (James Frecheville) - are also best friends. Everything changes when Roz and Ian begin a sexual relationship. Lil and Tom, at first hurt and shocked, soon begin a relationship of their own. The four soon decide to continue with their lives and their relationships, but keep it secret from Roz's husband Harold (Ben Mendelsohn) and the small, coastal community that would invariable judge them.
For a film that should be about the extreme emotional turmoil that comes with such a situation, Adoration feels too calm and and very emotionally distant from its audience. The viewers are outsiders, looking in through a window into something that we don't really understand, at people we don't really know. For instance, Xavier Samuel's character Ian initiates the relationship with Roz, which starts the chain of events rolling (for lack of a better phrase), but there is never any kind of explanation or discussion. Physical attraction would be a perfectly understandable possibility, but the most Ian ever says about Roz is that 'She's been like a second mother to me.' It's easy to see how Lil and Tom started - but what began as a sort of revenge against a once-perceived betrayal by the other two quickly develops into a real relationship. Aside from a few moments in which the characters attempt to break up for the good of everyone, they seem to carry their lives on as normal. It's utterly bewildering. We are being asked to judge their actions, without actually gaining any insight into their thoughts. We never get beneath the surface.
In a way, I understand why this was done. Adoration is supposed to be a portrait of ageing, cross-generational love, supposedly 'taboo' relationships, social conventions, and we are positioned as the everyday society. We know these people about as well as any of their casual acquaintances would, and it is left up to our own minds whether their actions are 'right' or 'wrong'. This could have been such an interesting opportunity to explore some great questions of morality, but when you are never allowed to get close to the characters, it becomes an annoying, even a dull experience. Having an older girlfriend or a younger boyfriend is nothing to bat an eye at (though that you would fall for your best friends son is a bit weird) - but I don't want to spend the entire movie puzzling over an enigma. The way Roz and Lil deal with each other, with their sons - it doesn't feel real.
The actors do the best they can with what they have to work with. The four leading cast are quite excellent and Robin Wright especially had some moments that rang with real, sincere emotion. Occasionally, the dialogue is almost cringeworthy (I can't picture any of these people saying "lezzo's", I'm sorry), and Ben Mendelsohn's character, Howard, is given absolutely nothing to do. He wanders around oblivious and lost. The film looks absolutely gorgeous, the isolated locations further removing the characters from the confines of societal norms, but the score got to me as well. The main theme starts off as a bright, and almost whimsical, highlighting the carefree lifestyle that Roz and Lil have always known. As the film goes on however, the same main theme returns over and over, and by the end it is quite grating.
What could have been a meditative, erotic, even romantic film is simply an incredibly wearying experience. A lot of decisions have been made in the making of Adoration that simply does not translate to a compelling story. I applaud the cast for their work, but without a strong story to back it up, this film simply does not resonate.