There’s nothing quite like having some of the best actors available take a difficult subject matter and making sense of it, even if making sense of it reveal how painful life can be. In a rare big-screen appearance, Debra Winger plays Mary, who has been married to Michael (Tracy Letts) for so long that the two barely notice each other even in what passes for their most intimate moments. It turns out that Michael is having an affair with dance instructor Lucy (Melora Walters), who is on the verge of ending their arrangement if he doesn’t leave his wife. The occasion of his son’s upcoming visit from college seems like a good deadline for things, so he tells her that after his visit, he’ll drop the bomb on Mary.
One of the many twists in this scenario is that Mary is also having a passionate affair with Robert (Aidan Gillen), who is also eager to take their love to the next level (preferably one where she is no longer married). And she too decides the time has come to reveal the truth. The film’s cruelest turn happens when this couple, now each seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that is their marriage, suddenly notice each other once again and start falling for each other again. If this film had been made in the 1930s, it would have been a vicious and darkly funny romantic comedy of a sort that were fairly common at the time. But writer-director Azazel Jacobs (Terri, the HBO series “Doll & Em”) wants The Lovers to remind us that sometimes we ignore the greatest things in our lives when they are poised right before our eyes.
And the truth is, The Lovers is often quite funny—uncomfortably so, most of the time—especially in the way it portrays the couple’s behavior when they start to realize they still have feelings for each other. The arrival of their son, Joel (Tyler Ross), and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula, recently seen in Split) only places a magnifying glass over the couple’s wounded relationship. Having an outside observer who is still very much impacted by their behavior shames them into coming clean and forces them to make choices about moving forward. It would be laugh-out-loud funny if it wasn’t so tragic.
I’m not sure a film has been made in recent years that captures what it means to be married in the modern era as effectively as this one, and it’s anchored by Winger and Letts in a way that we feel that if we let go of them, we’d be flung off our feet and into the abyss and stay lonely forever. The Lovers uses familiar relationships and situations to show us something we may never have noticed about human behavior and the way we love each other. It’s an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.
The movie opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.