Sunday 28 April 2019

Movie Review: The Lovers (2017)

A romantic drama and comedy, The Lovers is a playful but sparse exploration of unexpected surprises lurking in a stale marriage.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are well into middle age and going through the motions of pretending to be married. In reality they cannot tolerate each other, and they are both having affairs and barely bothering to keep them secret. Mary's lover is writer Robert (Aidan Gillen) while Michael's mistress is Lucy (Melora Walters), a dancer and ballet teacher.

Both Mary and Michael have separately promised their lovers they will end their marriage around the time their son Joel (Tyler Ross) and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) arrive for a weekend visit. But an inadvertent morning kiss sparks passion back into the mariage, scrambling Mary and Michael's emotions and confusing their lovers.

The irony of The Lovers resides in both affairs starting to emit the same stale stench of tired relationships. Robert and Lucy appear well on the way to introducing heavy doses of irritation into the lives of Mary and Michael respectively, in a dual example of the sheets feeling silkier in a new lover's bed, but only temporarily.

And so it's no surprise when writer and director Azael Jacobs reignites the fire between Mary and Michael, the married couple rediscovering the joy of physical intimacy with each other and forced to hide the affair-within-marriage from their illicit lovers.

The Lovers deftly manoeuvres through this mixed up terrain of the heart, but the scarcity of substance is also obvious. The film is just over 90 minutes long, but the pace is slow, the pauses pregnant, and several scenes retread familiar dynamics without adding much new material. The arrival of son Joel and his girlfriend Erin is a prelude to some unnecessary histrionics.

Jacobs also has difficulty rounding out his characters. For a small film centred on four people, Mary and Michael are offered relatively little depth, while Robert and Lucy are sketched in with just the broadest of strokes. The limitations of the writing are sometimes painfully evident in the wooden dialogue, and other than stars Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, the performances and delivery border on amateurishly stiff.

But The Lovers succeeds more often than it fails thanks to a clear-eyed perspective on raw emotional eccentricity. The heart magnet between Mary and Michael rotates to alternatively push them apart and pull them together, lovers and their lovers caught in a whirlpool of amusing uncertainty.

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