I remember reading a review of the Meryl Streep movie It’s Complicated that said it was “kitchen porn.” The premise was that women of a certain age just want to see Meryl having some easy sex, drinking white wine with her friends, and building her dream kitchen. Well, 50 Shades of Grey has ushered in the age of “mommy porn,” and Two Mothers, an Australian movie that debuted at Sundance on Friday night, has changed that idea all over again.
To boil it down, the movie is about Naomi Watts and Robin Wright (and a Penn written with invisible ink) sleeping with each others’ sons. But it’s not just about that. They play best girl friends from childhood who live across the street from each other. And not just across the street, they live on the beach on an ocean so blue it could play in a jazz club. They live in stone and glass boxes that would make a cover of Archetectual Digest feel like it looked fat and would never come out of its room again. And these aren’t just sons, they are buffed, bronzed gods. They are castaways from Twilight movies (one of them, Xavier Samuel, is actually in a bunch of the films in the vampire franchise).
This is perfect mommy porn. Here are middle-aged women with impossibly good skin, tight tummys, and a collection of floppy hats that would make a Chico’s outlet jealous (all the better to cover up Wright’s hideous ’90s lesbian cut). They get reamed by hard-bodied boys standing up in their perfect houses. They bask in the glow of their friendship, the love of their boys, and the love of their mates. They are a perfect unit. They have everything they could want.
Then it all goes bad. Of course it goes bad. This thing is not supposed to go well. It’s two best friends f**king each others’ sons who are also best friends. That is going to screw you up in the head. Not only is it that, but there is a homoeroticism that the women (who are constantly mistaken for lesbians) get to sleep with each other by sleeping with their progeny and the boys, the only two people on earth who can call each other “motherf**ker” and mean it, get to touch each other through their mothers. And then there is the idea that the women are bonding with their sons by sleeping with their surrogates. It’s like a strange psychotic rhombus of romantic entanglements.
While the romantic entanglements are fun to watch (neither Samuel nor James Frecheville wear a shirt very often and we see both of their bums), we never really get quite to the bottom of them. They fail spectacularly not because of anything innate to the characters but something innate in the situation. It is meant to fail because it is never meant to happen in the first place. That is the only takeaway we get. When asked how the actors would face this situation in real life during the Q&A after the premiere, they all responded that this would not happen in real life. No, it is porn. It is not just porn in terms of what women want, but emotional porn too. Some sort of exquisite joy and pain that is too good that we don’t deserve it in real life, it is only reserved for the movies.
The other odd thing about the Q&A is that director Anne Fontaine (a Frenchwoman working for the first time in English) said she didn’t understand why the audience laughed so much during the movie. She did not intend it to be funny. No, the movie finds nothing funny about this odd situation and treats it with a sort of reverence and sincerity that makes many of the overwrought scenes into camp. It’s a rare gem when we get something that isn’t trying to be funny to get a laugh (though Fontaine says it is “ironic,” but her English is as good as Wright’s haircut) and that just underlies the main problem with the movie: no one ever gets over the premise. Basically this is a log line fleshed out into a 100 minute movie. Since it never bothers to deliver emotional stakes, we just get to watch people going through the motions, their most intimate moments laid out for our vicarious enjoyment and titillation. Yes, it serves the exact same purpose as porn.
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