Director: Anne Fontaine
Writer: Christopher Hampton, based on “The Grandmothers” by Doris Lessing
Cast: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Ben Mendelsohn, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville
Running Length: 111 minutes
Synopsis: A pair of childhood friends and neighbours falls for each other’s sons.
Review: Perfect Mothers is one of those movies with a pretty high “ick factor” – after all, it is about two lifelong female friends who fall for each other’s sons, which almost toes the lines of incest. However, viewers who can see beyond this point will find a movie that has strong visuals, is relatively well directed (although the film would have worked better with a tighter edit) and boasts some very strong central performances, particularly that of Robin Wright. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at the very least it’s a beautiful movie to look at.
French director Anne Fontaine chose to film Perfect Mothers in Australia, and the cinematography is lush and sun-drenched, with an almost dreamy quality that at times seems at odds with the more serious tone of the screenplay. There are plenty of beach scenes – perhaps a little too many – and plenty of bare skin for audiences to ogle at. Although based on a novella named “The Grandmothers” (by the late Doris Lessing), both Robin Wright and Naomi Watts are simply a little too shapely and youthful to convince as grandmothers, more like women coping with a mid-life crisis.
However, what cannot be denied is that there are some very good performances to be found in the film. While Naomi Watts is given the somewhat flashier role (which she performs capably in), Robin Wright is the one that truly stands out with her restrained performance, perfectly nailing the vulnerabilities of her character without having to resort to theatrics. For the younger set, Xavier Samuel also puts in an excellent job as Lil’s son, wounded repeatedly by those he loves the most, and bridling with a silent rage that seems to intensify as the movie progresses.
It’s tempting to dismiss Perfect Mothers outright simply because it deals with quite a taboo subject – is it right to lust after your friend’s son (and vice-versa)? It is definitely true that the film can’t really hit the right note in handling the subject matter, at times being overly melodramatic, and at other times coming off as being a little too flippant about the whole thing. There is more than a handful of unintentionally funny sequences, and given how serious the screenplay seems to want to be, very jarring and damaging to the tone of the movie. However, credit has to be given that at least Anne Fontaine managed to craft a decent film out of the subject matter – in less capable hands this may very well have come off as a much worse movie.
Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)