Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan has seen “the best movie and the worst movie” of the festival so far. “It’s called Two Mothers and it’s imperative that you close all your other browser windows and memorize everything I tell you about it, because it is a doozy. Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star… as Lil and Roz, two blonde BFFs and next-door neighbors who lounge around in so many sleeveless maxi dresses that even Anya Ayoung Chee would say, ‘Girl, enough.’ The two lifelong friends live in jaw-droppingly gorgeous houses overlooking the Australian coast, which makes it easy for their strapping twentysomething sons (Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville) to hang out, surf, and keep their lonely moms company. And boy do they keep them company, you guys: Out of the blue, Watts’s son decides to bang Wright, who’s known him since he was born. Before you can say ‘revenge fuck,’ Wright’s son seduces Watts in turn. It appears, then, that Australia is quite literally MILF Island.”
Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) directs, and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) has adapted the novella written by none other than Doris Lessing—when she was 85. Buchanan points out a “pivotal exchange between Lil and Roz… after the two women have just learned that they’re, you know, boning each other’s sons: ‘How are you feeling?’ Long pause. ‘Good.’ Long pause. ‘Yeah. Me too.’ In the next scene, all four of them are hanging out together and having a blast. Well, glad that’s settled!”
The Voice‘s Scott Foundas, too, finds “something guiltily pleasurable about Two Mothers and its high-toned Skinemax vibe. Fontaine is too straight-arrow a director to push the material fully over the absurd precipice—the way that, say, Paul Verhoeven readily would have—but that didn’t stop the Eccles audience from erupting in waves of laughter during some of the more risible sections. When asked, during the post-screening Q&A, what surprised her most about the audience’s response, a befuddled Fontaine answered in broken English, ‘Ze laughing. I’m not sure what that means.’ If a ballsy distributor picks this up and markets it as a full-on camp melodrama—Mommies Dearest—they might just have a hit on their hands.”
But for Variety‘s Justin Chang, Two Mothers is 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.” For the Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney, it might have worked “as either heightened melodrama or farcical comedy. Instead Fontaine, who is not exactly blessed with a light touch, opts for misplaced sincerity.” And for Tim Grierson, writing for Screen, it “is at heart about the unfathomable mysteries of human desire, in the process delivering a romantic drama in which sadness and joy are never far apart.”
The Hollywood Reporter chats with Fontaine and Watts. Two Mothers has screened in the Premieres section.
Updates, 1/26: Writing for Vanity Fair, Julie Miller finds that “cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne elevates the final product with stunning visuals of Australian beaches and its naturally beautiful stars, even when they are entangled in some kind of sexual position more befitting of a soft-core-porn title. In short: Watts, Wright, and Beaucarne effectively upgrade what could have, with other talents involved, yielded a movie as straight-up cheesy as its dialogue. If this sounds like a backhanded pan, though, it is not exactly. There is much to be appreciated, interpreted, and, yes, laughed at, in Two Mothers—even if the appreciation, interpretation, and laughter are being done as part of a drinking game coinciding with the film’s possible V.O.D. release.”
Ioncinema‘s Nicholas Bell finds “a fascinating depth to this challenging piece, even if you are laughing when you’re not supposed to.” Writing for the Guardian, Damon Wise suggests that “it reflects Lessing’s forays into science fiction, since, at the core, it is about two women trying not only to live forever but to take their friendship to a new level.” At Twitch, Alex Koehne finds it “provocative and troubling, sensual and scandalous, bohemian and modern, and is downright fascinating.”
The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Eugene Hernandez interviews Fontaine and Watts.
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