Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are married. They are also both planning to leave the other to run off with their lovers, Robert (Aidan Gillen) and Lucy (Melora Walters) respectively. Both of them plan to drop the big news on or around the visit from their son Joel (Tyler Ross).
And that’s the ticking clock. In the meantime, the couple is meant to remain as distant as they have been in the years of their marriage. They are meant to strain against the oncoming change, second guess themselves.
Some of this happens in Azazel Jacobs’ The Lovers, a darkly comic look at the nature of love strained by time. Our duo protagonists certainly toss and turn with what is about to come, what they have brought upon themselves. But they also, strangely, grow closer to one another in their supposed final days as a married couple.
What is striking about The Lovers is not necessarily this turn-on-its-head look at adulterous relationships. In a way—at least, in the way the film presents its scenario—that Michael and Mary grow closer with the end in sight makes complete sense. Knowing what they are about to lose, they learn to care about it once again.
Thematically, this is utterly compelling. Adultery being as common a narrative trope as it is in fiction, it is refreshing to see it handled for a different purpose, to a more nuanced end.
Yet, The Lovers lacks something in this contained, self-absorbed narration—contained is an apt word for it, the camera never leaving the small worlds of these characters, so claustrophobic within these worlds that it is jarring when we are first introduced to Joel.
What we lose in the execution of this developed, if not at times on-the-nose, script is energy. Mary and Michael are so lost in the shallows of their relationship that they have no ambition in their voice or action. They are, quite simply, dull.
Sure, this is by design. The essence of the film is about finding the lost spark in a burnt out marriage. But even when this spark is found, the characters are too far gone. There is no counterpoint to the dreary reality of their unhappiness. This leaves the film heavier and slower than a comedy ought to be.
Of the two halves of this marriage, Winger comes out on the right side of it. Even in the dreariness, there is something illuminating in her performance.
Where the married couple lack energy, their adulterous counterparts pick up the slack in scenes where they are allowed to be involved. Gillen and Walters both give performances that, on contact, are caricatures of needy, self-involved lonely people. But with more exposure their characters deepen in fascinating ways. If only the movie was about them.
The Lovers has an ambitious narrative diversion from the normal marriage plots. But the execution of this narrative is sloppy at best. Strong performances at times provide a nice diversion from this unevenness, but on the whole the film fails to make good use of what it has at its disposal.
The Lovers: B-
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)