Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
It's a shame that whenever middle-aged to elderly individuals finally get a film that speaks to their experiences, it's usually a story about a souring marriage, sex-life, and existence all around. Though the genre frequently boasts winners, like 2012's still-great Hope Springs, it also has the potential to illicit duds (last year's 45 Years). On that note, perhaps those who seek out Azazel Jacobs' (Terri) new film The Lovers will appreciate its willingness to conclude on a semi-positive note rather than the cynical, if more realistic, route it could've easily taken. Like I'd assume marriage is in itself, watching the film takes a bit of work to get to that desired conclusion but it's mostly worth it in the end.
The Lovers revolves around the tired, aging married couple of Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger), two people well into their middle-age who are both cheating with their respective lovers. Michael eyes and romances the ambitious actress Lucy (Melora Walters) maybe because she reminds him of his wife used to be, and Mary falls into the arms of the reserved but emotionally constant Robert (Aidan Gillen), who listens to her rather than just hears the words she speaks. The two have a college-aged son named Joel (Tyler Ross), who is coming to visit with his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) in a few days and the two are hoping to themselves - and to one another - that they can keep their woeful marriage together for that long.
Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen
5 May 2017
Steve's Grade: C+
Michael and Mary have grown apart so much so that there is the same spark of chemistry when one of them arrives home that there is when a distant college student enters his dorm when his roommate is present. The romance and sex has soured completely, and the two can't even be in the same room for a great deal of time without looking like one of them is going to burst into tears. Meanwhile, both Lucy and Robert are getting impatient at their lovers for dragging out ending their marriage to the point where it becomes a "him/her or me" situation as the two continue to try and dance around the elephant in the room.
Everything about The Lovers is decidedly muted: its performances, its color palette, and the inherent sadness of its premise at least until the final act. It has the look not of a bad day but of the bad life it's representing; a life that exists in an emotionally vapid slog that has physically and mentally drained both parties. Debra Winger looks like she's about ready to bawl at times, as if the world is sitting completely still while she sits and sulks on her couch, while Tracy Letts tries to let some mild, workable comic relief into the picture to no avail. Winger and Letts are great even if they are forced to operate on separate emotional planes and the flaming disconnect is only an affirmation of their strengths as performers to make a truly heartbreaking pairing work.
The issues with The Lovers are minor but somewhat critical to its success as a film. The film spends a bit too much time developing both Lucy and Robert while, at the same time, mostly ignoring the marriage at hand. Much like in his previous films, Jacobs favors a bit of a disconnected pacing that shows small little moments and scenes strung together to make a movie, which gives rise to the reason why The Lovers hits strides and occasionally has the ability to bore. When you're working with material that's this depressing, it's admittedly challenging to stay connected to people that aren't as exciting or as flavorful as Lucy and Robert, much less show them as opposed to the real star of the show - the failing marriage.
While the first hour deals mostly with the failures and attempts to remedy, or at least work through, broken domesticity, the final half an hour of The Lovers is shockingly great, posing a sharp contrast to the hit-and-miss first and second acts. When Joel and Erin come to Joel's parents to visit, suddenly, the elephant in the room is not the failing marriage of Michael and Mary but the successful relationship their son has forged. It lends a certain theme of somber inevitability to the whole situation that creeps in the room and makes everything less in color and sharpness than the previous hour.
It's within those moments that The Lovers becomes the movie it wants to be. Throughout, however, it admirably avoids the common tropes and theatricality of breakups as made worse and more dramatized by the popularity of reality TV shows. Here's something you could believe, if you've never had firsthand experience, is more like the way it happens in real life. A new, inspiring flame is now labeled as "WORK" in the contacts of your cell-phone, and lies to your husband that you're running errands soon become transparent when you don't come back with the gallon of milk you said you were getting - or perhaps you're past the point of even noticing or caring about that too.
The Lovers also shows the impact film-endings have. Had the film ended literally ten seconds earlier, I would've given it a positive review, but the ending, in its current state, offers narrowly invalidates the often-times honest human feelings and emotions that predate a divorce situation. Not to mention, once Joel has his say in his parents' marriage and that event unfolds, it's hard to double-back like that by way of an 80s pop song regardless of how it fits. The Lovers is a good film, but damn it could've been great.