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There’s a game afoot when the The Lovers, a new film by Azazel Jacobs, begins, one that is designed to deceive as two couples are shown in varying states of distress and empowerment, only to have it skewered when the man in one relationship and the woman in the other end up being married, unaware that each is cheating on the other. It’s a delicate bed of eggshells they play upon but one they’ve become adept as doing. To their lovers, promises are made and expectations set but oh do things have a way of twisting out of control.
The man is Michael (Tracy Letts) and his wife is Mary (Debra Winger) and they’ve been married a long time, are comfortable and content but no longer ‘in love’ as the passions have all but been spent. Michael is having an affair with Lucy (Melora Walters), a ballet dancer and teacher who is easily emotional and is desperate and pressuring him to tell Mary it’s over. Mary is involved with a writer named Robert (Aiden Gillen) who is obsessed with her, unable to concentrate on anything else. It’s not made immediately clear why Mary and Michael haven’t divorced, as we learn their adult son Joel (Tyler Ross) has moved out, and in fact, his impending visit with girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) seems catalyst enough for the two to make the break. And then one morning …
Written and directed by Jacobs, in his first film in six years, The Lovers has a lush feel of romance about it, at least in its first half, and it’s greatly satisfying to see a film so passionately embrace real sex and love with people over sixty. It’s a flirty little film but rich with well-earned drama and terrific humor. Jacobs is patient and challenging with his characters, layering them with great unexpected vulnerabilities that come to reshape who they are. It becomes an exploration of balance as these two walk very thin lines with themselves, their spouses and their lovers in waiting.
The film loves phones and Jacobs uses them as if we are in the peripheral, unsure who they are talking to sometimes, with text messages left off screen, a refreshing take on the trend where we often only see and hear the reaction of one person. There is one time though when we see both Mary and Michael on the phone with each other while out with their affairs and it’s a magical little dance that leads to even bigger surprises. But by the time Joel and Erin show up, at the halfway mark, things have decidedly shifted between both couples and the tone changes as well as reality crushes the fairy tales. That said, it’s good to see a movie like this not make caricatures out of the other lovers, typically characters who go off deep ends and cause chaos. This is about Mary and Michael.
It’s a credit to Jacob’s writing that what would seem like an unsustainable hook could last as well as it does. Fiercely funny but in a sublimely subtle way, The Lovers is further lifted by its performances and a sensational score by Mandy Hoffman. There are some deeply devastating moments as well though and it defies conventions as it works its way to the inevitable showdown, a moment that itself is hardly traditional. There lies a mystery at the heart of it all, one we are all a party too as promises are made but questioned if they’ll be kept. And when the time comes, it comes with hard knocks. But love is love.
Movie description: The Lovers is a 2017 drama about a long-married, dispassionate couple who are both in the midst of serious affairs, though on the brink of calling it quits, find impulsive romance.
Director(s): Azazel Jacobs
Actor(s): Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen