Film & Television

‘The Lovers’ — What Goes Around, Comes Around

One of my favorite moments at the movies is when the ads for Lexus or Coke or the Marines end and the bright green title card appears informing us that the preview we’re about to see has been “approved for all audiences.” Previews (commonly called “trailers” although they no longer follow the feature film) are an art form unto themselves. They’re invariably entertaining. Sometimes, in fact, they are far superior to the associated full-length movie. Even a bona fide bomb usually contains two minutes of decent footage. In the hands of a talented editor, those brief scenes are woven together into something that teases us, woos us, and hopefully convinces us to come back a week or so later.

That said, I do think that the extremely creative folk who make trailers for a living have some responsibility to present an accurate picture of the picture they’re promoting. I’m not talking about quality (it’s their job to make every movie look good); I’m referring to genre.

For example, judging by the preview for the new film The Lovers, you might expect the movie to be a typical later-in-life romantic comedy. Sort of It’s Complicated meets As Good As It Gets, complete with a big name actress (lately it’s been Meryl Streep or Diane Keaton) who gets her groove back despite being uber self-conscious about her aging body. These movies celebrate the unexpected, but invariably feature awkward bedroom scenes (apparently nothing is quite as funny as people with laugh lines and cellulite actually getting naked and actually — gasp — having s-e-x).

Some of these middle-aged rom-coms (I call them,“mom-coms”) are pretty good. Some are pretty bad. But, at this point, they’re all pretty predictable.

The Lovers is anything but.

The Lovers, written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, stars the marvelous Debra Winger and equally marvelous if somewhat doughy Tracy Letts as long-married and thoroughly disenchanted couple Mary and Michael. They live together in a nondescript beige house. They work at soulless jobs in virtually identical cubicles. They have fallen into a dreary everyday routine where the closest thing they have to any real conversation is a back-and-forth about needing toothpaste. Deliberately or not, they have cultivated the contempt of the familiar.

Oh, and did I mention they both have lovers?

Mary is involved with a frustrated British writer. Michael with a high-strung dance teacher. The two are caught up in the trappings of their affairs; they hide text messages, make up stories about “working late,” sneak away for lunchtime trysts. But neither seems quite as keen as their respective partners. Robert (Aiden Gillian) urges Mary to leave Michael, complaining that he is so distraught waiting for her that he can’t write. Lucy (Melora Walters) swings between devotion and despair when she isn’t shrilly berating Michael. In clever parallel scenes, we hear Mary and Michael promise to “tell him”/”tell her” as soon as their grown son and his girlfriend end their upcoming visit. Neither seems to be in any great hurry to make the break and legitimize their extracurricular activities.

Then something happens. Weighed down by the increasing demands of their lovers, Mary and Michael rediscover each other. It’s as though whatever thrill they once found by cheating is reignited in the most unexpected of places (their bedroom) with the most unlikely partner (their spouse). Even as they realize each other’s secrets, they become passionate lovers, which sets off funny circular business — Michael sends suggestive texts to Mary while he’s waiting for Lucy to wrap up a dance class. Mary leaves her lover Robert at a bar to respond. They’re suddenly happier than they were with either illicit paramour. In fact, when their judgemental son arrives, he’s surprised by how genuinely affectionate they seem. Of course, with two impatient lovers in the wings, dramatic confrontations and major life decisions can’t be avoided forever.

The plot I’ve just described could easily have turned into one of those rom-coms for the menopause set I mentioned earlier. What sets The Lovers apart is virtually everything else about it: the writing, the direction, the acting, and even the soundtrack. It’s funny, often and very, but not in a laugh out loud way. It isn’t neat and tidy. The characters aren’t perfect, but they aren’t terribly flawed either. The whole thing just feels real.

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  • LM May 23, 2017 at 10:51 am

    I enjoyed your review and I’m dying to see the movie. BUT could we retire the expression “menopause set” to refer to older women?