Relationships are complicated. Every person knows this; it is a universal truth. Love can be both the best experience and the worst experience, but it’s incredibly difficult to live your life on this earth unscathed by the scars of loving another person. Of course, a relationship is made a bit more complicated when you fall in love with your best friend’s son, and director Anne Fontaine takes this complication one step further by chronicling the extended love affair of two best friends who fall in love with each other’s sons. Hit the jump for my full review of Two Mothers.
Lil and Roz (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, respectively) have been best friends ever since they were young. Their bond is almost one of companionship more than friendship, and Roz’s husband (Ben Mendelsohn) at one point even remarks that he feels as if he has his wife on loan whenever they spend time together. The two are simply inseparable. Roz’s husband dies suddenly when her son is just a child, and Lil is there to comfort her after the event. As we’re introduced to the close bond between these two women in the wake of the tragedy, we’re also made aware of the fact that their young sons are there to comfort each other as well. The film spends little time with the two as children, though, and we quickly jump forward to a time where the sons are now grown twentysomething men, played by Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville, and like their mothers they too share a close friendship.
Fontaine seems adamant in making sure that we know her cast is gorgeous, and most of the shots of Samuel and Frecheville feature the two shirtless on a beach, shirtless in the water, or shirtless in their houses. In fact, in an early dialogue exchange between Lil and Roz, the two marvel at just how good-looking their sons are, likening them to “young gods.” As the story progresses, we see that the four pretty much spend all of their time together (which in and of itself is pretty strange), and we catch quick glances between Roz and Samuel that hint at more than an innocent connection.
The crux of the film’s premise is kicked into gear when Samuel’s character, the son of Lil, sleeps over at Frecheville’s place and, following more of those curious looks between the two, kisses Roz out of the blue while wandering the house late at night. As has been established in the earlier scenes, Roz’s feelings for Samuel’s character are likely deeper than they ought to be, and she doesn’t outright stop this unexpected kiss, moving things passionately into the bedroom.
Frecheville’s character stumbles upon his mother sneaking out of Samuel’s room with her pants in her hand, and thus abruptly leaves the house. After spending the night on the beach, he decides the best course of action is to head over to Lil’s place and attempt to sleep with her. Though she resists at first, still shocked by the news of her son and Roz’s actions, Lil eventually relents, thus setting into motion one very strange foursome.
The rest of the film focuses on the complex relationships between these four people over the years, as we see how this sort of relationship might play out in reality. However, Lil and Frecheville’s connection never quite clicks because the impetus of their initial sexual encounter appears to be motivated by nothing more than revenge and confusion. For the duration of the film, we’re supposed to believe that the two harbored feelings for each other long before acting on it, but the relationship never really feels genuine or even passionate. This makes it tough to invest in their relationship and, by extension, their characters.
The relationship between Wright and Samuel’s character, on the other hand, is by far the strongest part of the film, and the actors turn in a couple of wonderful performances. Samuel shows great promise with a raw, emotional, and ultimately moving take on the character, and Wright’s performance is at once maternal, sincere, and delicate. She’s really given a complex character to flesh out, and Wright turns in one of her best performances in years.
The single greatest hurdle to get over in watching Two Lovers is the fact that these two women have known the boys ever since they were babies, so however impassioned their relationship may appear onscreen, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that you’re watching pseudo-incest. Fontaine attempts to bring a reality to the situation in her approach to the film’s love scenes, though, and she’s not afraid to show the characters pause ever so slightly in between kisses and embraces, letting the audience know that this is not some impulse, “of the moment” hookup; the characters are fully aware of what they are doing and why their actions are, to quote Wright’s character, “unacceptable.”
As the story moves forward, Fontaine tries to speak to the universal truths found in all relationships through these characters: self-doubt, jealousy, unbridled emotion, bliss. Sometimes this works well, but other times the characters’ actions fall flat and we’re genuinely unsure whether we should laugh or cry. After all, this is a weird situation, and watching two mothers talk giddily about their boyfriends who also happen to be each other’s sons is, well, odd. The dialogue can also be a bit stiff or on the nose, and at one point early in the film the mothers share an exchange in which they flat-out tell each other how happy they are to be having sex with each other’s son, with no hint of irony or shame.
Two Mothers is, above all, a peculiar film. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see two lead female characters that aren’t at each other’s throats or who experience a rift over boy problems, but on the other hand it’s incredibly hard to accept or connect with relationships between young boys and their surrogate mothers. And yet, we start to buy in to the love between Wright and Samuel thanks to a strong character dynamic and excellent chemistry, and despite the ridiculousness of the premise and stiff screenplay, the most peculiar thing about Two Mothers is that it actually kind of sort of works.