Two Mothers: Sundance Film Festival

By Natalia Lusinski · January 20, 2013

If I were a film school teacher, I would make Two Mothers a must-see for my students.

The structure, the nuances, the acting that is so subtle yet perfect to portray the given moment – all are what makes the film stand out.

Naomi Watts and Robin Wright play lifelong best friends, Lil and Roz respectively, who fall in love with each other’s sons. (I know how that sounds, but trust me, you will go along for the ride almost immediately, eliminating any gross-out factor.) And the best part is – it’s based on a true story, the book The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing.

Lil and Roz’s connection as best friends since childhood is so real, I often forgot I was watching a film. And their sons’ friendship, daily surfing buddies, mirrors their mothers’, so much so that the four often dine together, laughing and dancing.

Coastal Australia is another character in the film (you will see what I mean when you see it). From the very first scene, we see Lil and Roz’ relationship with the water — the way it binds them as kids and how it continues to bind them through adulthood.

The story is layered and complex, thanks to Anne Fontaine’s directing, which seduces us into the narrative with Christopher Hampton’s screenplay. As the married Roz is tempted by Lil’s son, Ian (Xavier Samuel), we are right there with her – will this be the moment they kiss? Then right when we think it will happen, it doesn’t, which makes us yearn for the next turning point.When Roz’ son, Tom (James Frecheville), learns about Ian and his mom, he goes after Lil (a widow), which would seem farcical had Lil not played hard-to-get for a few scenes first. One can see why the sons feel comfortable with each other’s mothers (and the fact that the women are in excellent shape for their ages doesn’t hurt, either).  

Several themes emerge in the story: love, lust, aging, temptation. As the boys grow into men (one turns twenty-one in the film), Lil and Roz fall deeper in love and lust with Ian and Tom. Yet this makes the women confront their fears that the day may come when they are not fun and young enough for the sons.

The production value is stunning, with gorgeous shots of coastal Australia shot by cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne. And the music by Christopher Gordon fits into scenes at just the right moments.

During the Q&A afterwards in the packed Eccles Theatre, which seats 1,270, Fontaine said she was surprised at some of the moments where the audience laughed. Perhaps some things were lost in translation, as this was her first English-language film, yet I think this was a benefit.

Two Mothers will not disappoint.