At the end of September, two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts turns 44. So this fall is probably the perfect time for her “midlife crisis” movie — “Adore” — to come out.
“We all like to be reminded we’re still desirable,” she says as she drops her two young sons with actor and longtime love Liev Schreiber off at a suburban New York day camp. “That’s a very human thing. That’s why people have affairs in that age range, why marriages get into trouble. People look for some sign that they’re still alive and that they’re still capable.
“That’s kind of what a midlife crisis is, right? I mean, that’s what I HEAR they’re like!”
And actors and actresses in their 40s don’t mind that sort of validation either — a role that demands a lot of swimsuit wearing, a lot of alluring looks, moments of weakness and the attentions of a much younger man. “Adore,” based on Doris Lessing’s novella “The Grandmothers,” is about two lifelong friends (Robin Wright and Watts) who grew up together and raised their kids together on the idyllic shore of Australia’s New South Wales.
Then one day, one of them realizes that the 19-year-olds they’ve raised are “like young gods.” And darned if she doesn’t act on that attraction. And darned if her best friend doesn’t follow suit with that best friend’s son.
It’s all très scandaleux, as the film’s French director (Anne Fontaine) might say. And “thoughtful, sexy, and nonjudgmental” if “potentially tawdry,” as a critic for Screen Journal International notes.
“There are very few stories of women’s desire, and even fewer that are as twisted as this,” Watts says with a chuckle. “I love the fact that I move from a place of shock to a place of judgment to forgiveness. My character eventually wishes this could go on forever, but realizes, more than the others, that it cannot.”
Watts, a veteran of edgier film fare, tries not to get defensive about this boundary-pushing romance. But she finds herself repeating what sounds like an old Woody Allen defense — “There’s nothing illegal going on here.” And so there isn’t.
“It’s a bizarre set-up, these four people and the way they link up. They’re like people who cannot break the chain of their relationships and their link to this place. But there’s nothing illegal about it. They’re honest with each other, and very non-traditional ... It’s not grotesque. It’s just awkward, very non-traditional. NOT illegal.”
As Watts points out, in Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing’s story, “there’s no judgment in it. She sees this as a happy chapter in the long lives of these two very close friends.”
The bucolic beachfront setting gives “Adore” a Garden-of-Eden quality.
“They’re outside all the time. The sun is shining all the time, they’re wearing little to no clothing, the salty air, all of that has meaning. And it’s all quite sensual.” And you don’t have to see snakes to find temptation in all that.
The actress is starting work on Noah Baumbach’s new comedy, “While We’re Young,” co-starring Ben Stiller and Amanda Seyfried. She just finished work on another comedy, ”St. Vincent,” and took a role in the dark farce, “Birdman,” about a has-been movie superhero struggling to restart his career with a stage show version of that persona.
But Watts is what Oscar watchers are calling a “major threat” (The Hollywood Reporter) to land a nomination for her turn as Diana, Princess of Wales, in the bio-drama “Diana,” due out later this fall. Her big competition could be from her best friend, Nicole Kidman, playing Grace Kelly in another fall bio-pic. Which takes us back to the reasons the actress was drawn to the offbeat “Adore.”
“I love that the strongest relationship in the movie, the enduring one, is between Lil and Roz. They experienced everything in life together, from the time they were little girls, all the way through their midlife crisis, which we see played out in the film. They survive conflict and contradictions and a form of betrayal. But they share fun and happiness as well, and loyalty — women who love each other, no matter what.”