The Lovers (2017) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for sexuality and language
Running Time: 94 min.

Cast: Tracy Letts, Debra Winger, Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen, Tyler Ross, Jessica Sula
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Screenplay: Azazel Jacobs
Review published May 29, 2017

Tracy Letts (Elvis & Nixon, Indignation) and Debra Winger (Sometimes in April, Eulogy) play a middle-aged married couple named Michael and Mary, but they are far from a happy one.  Their marriage has grown stale over the years, and they've grown emotionally distant, to the point where Mary is now engaged in a serious affair with Robert (Gillen, Sing Street), a writer anxious for Mary to jump ship to be with him, while Michael himself is waiting for the right time to tell Mary that he's leaving her for an emotionally aching local dance instructor named Lucy (Walters, Short Term 12). 

With their jaded son Joel  (Ross, "The Killing") about to visit from college, they individually decide that the right time to spring the news should be postponed, but as the day to finally pull the plug on decades of marriage draws near, Michael and Mary find themselves drawing near to each other again.

The Lovers is written and directed by Azazel Jacobs (Terri, Momma's Man), who finds the folly, the foibles, and the hardships that accompany both stale marriages, as well as affairs that turn into full-blown relationships in which the other partners can't bear to continue living a lie any longer.  Jacobs finds all of the absurd wrinkles to the situation before piling on one more absurdity of the married couple having to sneak around to find time with each other without their newer partners suspecting. 

Very well played by the actors, with Letts and Winger in particular shining in roles that might have been promoted for major awards consideration in a more high-profile movie.  They truly breathe complexity into roles that could have come across as stock representations with actors of lesser talent, offering much endearing amiability through the deceit, and vulnerability even when they feel they are being clever. 

These are very tricky performances that ask us to sympathize with long-term adulterers and liars, who are also being lied to at the same time, and ask us to understand their emotional situations as they embark into increasingly foolish territory in the name of love.  The Lovers shows that when the grass always is greener on the other side of the fence, then the grass will look ever more green on the side they've been on for years once they make the leap.

The most offbeat aspect of The Lovers comes from its lush orchestral score from Mandy Hoffman ("I Love Dick", "Doll & Em"), which hearkens back to the domestic dramas of the 1950s and 1960s in its ironic approach, squeezing even more satire out of the situation than just the dialogue and performances alone.  These are people who've struggled to find normalcy, then, once found, crave to do something crazy.  And love certainly has made them act is some very crazy ways.

The best thing about The Lovers, other than its performances and commitment to characterizations, is that it strays from predictability, particularly during times when it feels like it is about to settle into easy conventionality. Perhaps the most telling lesson learned from this astute relationship comedy is that, when you're giving half your heart to your spouse and the other half to your lover, any effort at fostering real love will come off as half-hearted.

Qwipster's rating:

2017 Vince Leo