×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Two Mothers

Anne Fontaine's film about two lifelong friends who fall for each other's sons is all vapidly beautiful surface, an impeccably tasteful picture about some awfully tasteless decisions.

With:
Lil - Naomi Watts
Roz - Robin Wright
Ian - Xavier Samuel
Tom - James Frecheville
Hannah - Sophie Lowe
Mary - Jessica Tovey
Saul - Gary Sweet
Harold - Ben Mendelsohn
(English dialogue)

A ludicrous melodrama that begs to be handled as an over-the-top sex farce is instead treated with the solemnity of a wake, albeit one with a rather lenient dress code, in “Two Mothers.” Fully embracing the narcissism and misplaced priorities of its four hopelessly inseparable characters, Anne Fontaine’s film about two lifelong friends who fall for each other’s sons is all vapidly beautiful surface, an impeccably tasteful picture about some awfully tasteless decisions. Typically classy performances by Naomi Watts and Robin Wright lend the material more dignity and interest than it warrants, spelling lucrative inroads with distaff audiences in arthouse play.

An opening sequence swiftly establishes the schematic symmetries at the core of this Australia-set adaptation of Doris Lessing’s novella “The Grandmothers.” Best friends since they were growing up along the coast of New South Wales, Roz (Wright) and Lil (Watts) have a lot in common: They’re both strikingly beautiful blondes who live in adjacent beachfront houses, and each one has a son of about 20. Roz’s boy, Tom (James Frecheville), and Lil’s son, Ian (Xavier Samuel), are also best friends and surfing buddies. With Lil a longtime widow and Roz’s husband (Ben Mendelsohn) away in Sydney on business, the four love to idle away their free time together with wine, cards and occasional dancing.

It’s all a bit more self-involved than what most would consider healthy, and sure enough, it’s not long before Ian quietly makes a move on Roz, who puts up little resistance. Tom, having witnessed the encounter, marches over to Lil’s pad the next morning and seduces her in almost retaliatory fashion. Common sense and decency momentarily intrude, but soon the characters decide they rather like this arrangement and can make it work, giving the matter about as much time or consideration as it took to write this sentence. Or, as Lil puts it: “I don’t want to stop. I don’t see why we have to.”

Perhaps it takes a Gallic sensibility to suggest that this unconventional design for living could be a viable one, and there are moments when Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”), a French director making her English-language debut, seems prepared to tap into the material’s vulgar comic potential. Yet the laughs that are generated seem mostly unintentional, as this softcore cougar fantasy proceeds with the hushed solemnity of a Bergman chamber drama.

Despite their self-serious approach, Fontaine and scribe Christopher Hampton (usually a dab hand at tony literary material) tend to usher their characters away from the tough, juicy confrontations that would provide the requisite payoffs and presumably enable audience understanding. Exquisite beauty and decorum, as exemplified by Christophe Beaucarne’s pristine widescreen images and Christopher Gordon’s lush orchestrations, are apparently all the explanation or justification one needs. Not only do Lil and Roz fail to give each other a good throttling; they barely even raise their voices, treating each other instead with simpering politeness.

As far as Ian and Tom go, it’s unclear what they see in their significant mothers beyond physical attraction. Frankly, it’s unclear what these strapping Adonises think of anything; far more puzzling than the film’s May-December content is the revelation that Ian, played as a hulking, incommunicative slab by Frecheville, aspires to be a theater director.

Roz’s marriage crumbles and two years pass, during which this menage a quatre more or less retreats from the knowledge and judgment of the outside world and into a perpetual state of beach-bum bliss. Eventually, however, Tom’s wandering eye and the sudden appearance of wrinkles on Lil’s face determine that the situation is unsustainable, and the film’s second half sees the boys moving on and eventually starting their own families even as the pain of separation persists. (Tom and Ian each have a daughter, perhaps laying the groundwork for a much ickier sequel.)

Watts and Wright can both convey nuance and quiet intelligence even when seeming to do nothing in particular, and it’s lovely to see them share the screen at length, even if they’re largely coasting on serene presence in lieu of meaty material. A bit of a blank at first, Samuel gradually comes into his own as Ian emerges the most hotheaded and honest member of the foursome, achieving one of the few moments when real feelings and emotional stakes seem to breach the film’s immaculate surface. In all other respects, “Two Mothers” paints a picture of privileged isolation so stilted, otherworldly and ultimately impenetrable, it almost qualifies as science fiction.

Popular on Variety

Two Mothers

Australia-France

Production: A Gaumont (in France) release of a Gaumont, Screen Australia presentation, in association with Screen New South Wales, France 2 Cinema, France Televisions, Canal Plus, Cine Plus, of a Hopscotch Features/Cine@/Mon Voisin/France 2 Cinema co-production. (International sales: Gaumont, Paris.) Produced by Philipipe Carcassonne, Andrew Mason, Michel Feller, Barbara Gibbs. Executive producers, Naomi Watts, Troy um, Sidonie Dumas. Co-producers, Dominique Besnehard, Francis Boespflug. Directed by Anne Fontaine. Screenplay, Christopher Hampton, based on the book "The Grandmothers" by Doris Lessing.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor/Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Christophe Beaucarne; editors, Luc Barnier, Ceinwen Berry; music, Christopher Gordon; music supervisor, Andrew Kotatko; production designer, Annie Beauchamp; art director, Sophie Nash; set decorator, Sara Mathers; costume designer, Joanna Park; sound (Dolby Digital), Jean-Pierre Laforce, Brigitte Taillandier; supervising sound editor, Francis Wargnier; sound designer, Peter Miller; visual effects supervisor, David Gross; visual effects, Definition Films Australia; stunt coordinator, Dean Gould; assistant director, Chris Webb; casting, Nikki Barrett, Antonia Dauphin. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 18, 2013. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: Lil - Naomi Watts
Roz - Robin Wright
Ian - Xavier Samuel
Tom - James Frecheville
Hannah - Sophie Lowe
Mary - Jessica Tovey
Saul - Gary Sweet
Harold - Ben Mendelsohn
(English dialogue)

More Film

  • On Death Row TV Show

    Miguel Angel Silvestre Talks ‘On Death Row,’ Injustice, Playing Pablo Ibar

    CANNES  —  Movistar Plus has screened at Cannes Mipcom trade fair “On Death Row,” produced Bambú Producciones and Studiocanal which also handled international distribution. The four-part mini series follows Pablo Ibar, a Cuban-Spanish convicted of triple homicide, and his battle to receive a fair trial and prove his innocence. Miguel Angel Silvestre (“Sense8,” “Narcos”) who [...]

  • Festival Lumière 2019 - 2019-10-13 -

    Frances McDormand on the Legacy of ‘Fargo,’ the Power of Cinema

    LYON, France   — Multi-award-winning actress Frances McDormand captivated a packed theater during her master class at the Lumière Festival in Lyon, France, on Monday, serving up anecdotes of her long film career and touching on such topics as becoming the protagonist in her works, life with the Coens and the need for gender equality. [...]

  • Snack'n Screen

    Argentine Projects by Underground, Kapow, The Mediapro Studio, Pitched At Mipcom

    Underground Producciones’ “Qué pasó con Bonorino?,” Kapow’s “Mundiales” and The Mediapro Studio’s “@Mamita” figure among 11 TV series projects pitched today at the fourth edition of Mipcom’s Snack’n Screen Argentina showcase. Comedy and thrillers stand out as the dominant genres of this year’s selection, which also takes in animation production (Manuel Alejandro Vivas’ “Sombras en [...]

  • London Film Festival Posts 6% Rise

    London Film Festival Posts 6% Rise in Attendance for 2019 Edition

    The BFI London Film Festival reported a 6% rise in attendance for its 2019 edition, which wrapped on Sunday with the international premiere of Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” “The Irishman” gala premiere, which was attended by Scorsese and cast members Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel, was streamed via satellite from the Odeon [...]

  • APPLES

    Alpha Violet Takes World Rights for Christos Nikou’s ‘Apples’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based sales agent Alpha Violet has acquired world rights for “Apples,” the feature directorial debut of Greek filmmaker Christos Nikou. The company and the director will present a teaser of the offbeat dramedy this week at the Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo (MIA) in Rome. “Apples” is the story of Aris, a solitary man in his late [...]

  • Advanced Imaging Society Honors 10 Women

    AIS Honors 10 Women in Tech

    Celebrating 10 years of achievement in entertainment technology, the Advanced Imaging Society today named 10 female industry innovators who will receive the organization’s 2019 Distinguished Leadership Awards at the its 10th annual Entertainment Technology Awards ceremony on October 28 in Beverly Hills. The individuals were selected by an awards committee for being significant “entertainment industry [...]

  • Nicolas Cage Hainan International Film Festival

    China's Hainan Film Festival Launches Golden Coconut Competition

    The deep-pocketed, government-run Hainan Island International Film Festival has launched a new competition section for its second iteration, set to take place from December 1-8. This year, ten ‘Golden Coconut Awards’ will be given out across three categories of films: feature-length, feature documentaries, and fictional shorts. Prizes will be presented for best picture, best director, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content