The Lovers is an ironic but pitch-perfect title for the darkly funny and probing new comedy about a marriage on the rocks that is fortunate to have two actors at the top of their game in charge. In fact Debra Winger, who plays Mary, has not had a leading role this assured and sharp in a feature film in at least two decades. It ranks as some of the best work she has ever done onscreen. And her equally fine co-star Tracy Letts as Michael continues on his role of sterling work in such indie movies as Indignation and Christine. In addition to acting, Letts is a Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning playwright (August: Osage County) and brings a certain gravitas that cuts right to the bone in his performances. Both are given a smart script that examines long-term marriage through this marriage and recalls classics like Two for the Road in its ability to define its highs, lows and detours. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this is a movie adult audiences should crave, and it comes from the mind of a promising young writer-director, Azazel Jacobs, who has taken a time-honored premise and honed it in complicated but enormously entertaining fashion.
Mary and Michael probably are people you know: longtime suburban spouses who are dealing with a dead shark of a marriage. Their son, Joel (Tyler Ross), is long gone, and there is complete emptiness and lack of excitement in what is left of their once blissful union. They don’t even look at each other much anymore. But what they are keeping from each other is the affair each is having on the side. In Michael’s case, it is with an anxious and slightly unhinged ballet teacher Lucy (Melora Walters), who keeps demanding that he tell his wife he is leaving her. For Mary, it is a younger, very devoted lover named Robert (Aidan Gillen), who also is increasingly frustrated that she still sticks with her husband despite the fact that all the air has been sucked out of that marriage. The pressure is on both to act, but before either can reveal their secret, sparks again start to fly between them and suddenly they can’t keep their hands — or anything else — off of each other.
In essence they now find themselves lying to the very people they have been cheating with. More complications arise when Joel brings his girlfriend (Jessica Sula) for a weekend visit. He has warned her to be prepared because his parents “hate each other,” clearly something that has made him an embittered son. Even as he catches them in the act of being affectionate he doesn’t buy into the makeover at all. More twists and turns keep coming, leading to one of the most unexpected but satisfactory endings I have seen in a long time.
Jacobs is in complete command of his material, even to the point of letting composer Mandy Hoffman take a real risk with a big score that could have been disastrously intrusive on the proceedings but manages to strike just the right tone. Winger and Letts are simply superb in every way, completely convincing as a couple coming apart at the seams. Gillen and especially Walters are right on the money as the frustrated insignificant others waiting for their moment to arrive. Ross is excellent as the son who is having none of this.
A24 is releasing the film Friday, and The Lovers is another feather in the cap of its indie success story. For grown-up audiences looking for a movie that rises to the occasion, this is the one to see. Producers are Ben Le Clair, Chris Stinson and Jacobs.
Do you plan to see The Lovers? Let us know what you think.