Fittingly for a film about changing partners, The Lovers is an intriguing and eclectic mix of old and new. With its simple direction and old-fashioned score, it’s rather reminiscent of classical romances from the ‘50s and ‘60s in its execution, even as it tells a far less traditional story.
Mary and Michael (Winger and Letts) are the couple at the centre of Azazel Jacobs’ film. Their home life is perfectly civil, but instead of any shared intimacy, each is conducting an affair, Mary with writer Robert (Aidan Gillen), and Michael with ballet teacher Lucy (Melora Walters). Each is vaguely aware of the other’s indiscretions but, for the sake of simplicity, ignore the facts – until an unexpected tryst one morning puts the spark back into their relationship.
This change is very funny, as Mary and Michael essentially start to cheat on their lovers with each other. Jacobs’ writing and Winger and Letts’ performances strike a good balance between the fizzing excitement of a new relationship and the familiar comfort of a long-term one, and this second act is easily the strongest section of The Lovers.
The homecoming of their grumpy son Joel (Tyler Ross) from college throws things for an unfortunate loop in the final third, though. Attempting to inject real emotional drama into proceedings only serves to highlight how slight the film is, and Ross’s pouty performance drags things down, a strikingly unconfident bit of acting. And while Gillen is reliably good as the sympathetically-written Robert, Lucy is weakly characterised and annoying, and you see no reason why Michael would possibly choose her over his wife.
These are major flaws, but The Lovers still zips by entertainingly (at only 90 minutes, it doesn’t overstretch itself), capped by a funny, knowing set piece that both fulfils and subverts your expectations.
CAST: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen, Melora Walters
DIRECTOR: Azazel Jacobs
WRITER: Azazel Jacobs
SYNOPSIS: Debra Winger and Tracy Letts play a long-married, dispassionate couple who are both in the midst of serious affairs. But on the brink of calling it quits, a spark between them suddenly reignites, leading them into an impulsive romance.