The longtime marriage of Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger) has grown stale. But as we soon learn in The Lovers, a dramedy written and directed by indie filmmaker Azazel Jacobs (Momma’s Man), each is already involved in an extramarital affair.
And conveniently, both Mary and Michael are always having “terrible days at the office” and “having to work late.” In actuality, they’re spending more time at lunch hour canoodling than getting any business done. And those outside relationships aren’t exactly going swimmingly — Michael’s lover, Lucy (Melora Walters), and Mary’s other man, Robert (Aidan Gillen), are both angry at these respective spouses’ broken promises that they will finally leave the marriage.
Viewers get about 30 minutes of this — an amble through the assorted passive-aggressive (and just plain aggressive) dramas of these relationships — before the story’s jolt: No sooner do Michael and Mary make the very final commitment to their lovers that they’ll leave their spouses, than the spark suddenly re-ignites in the ashes of their marriage. (It suggests that what is desirable is the thrill of the forbidden, which doesn’t bode well for a long-term relationship, whomever they choose.) Now they are effectively cheating on the people they were cheating with.
This all would likely work better as an exaggerated screwball comedy (think of the similarly themed 1937 classic The Awful Truth), or as a more thoughtful and probing dramedy. The Lovers attempts to split the difference, but there is enough realistic drama (people feeling hurt, lies, betrayals) that it’s awkward to cheer for any of these folks. At least all four of them are knowingly both in affairs and being cheated on, if that makes it OK.
There’s a lot of squabbling, but I’d have appreciated some more background about Mary and Michael’s relationship. It’s particularly jarring when their college-age son Joel (Tyler Ross) shows up for a visit, already in full pique about the parents he can’t stand. Um …
Our protagonists inhabit bland upper-middle-class suburban spaces — home interiors that look like real-estate stagings, cubicled offices, generic bars and parking lots — and there is a larger sense of privileged ennui. (All of them are operating out of concern for themselves; Lucy at least teaches ballet to children, but Robert appears to be a writer of some insufferable self-regard.) This seemed another aspect of the film that could have been more barbed. I wondered whether these folks just needed a good vigorous shaking: Life is out there, people — just get on with it!
But The Lovers never really wraps up with any notable point. The ending is cute, though it’s hard to say exactly what it resolves. The film’s best asset is the inherent likability of the four lead actors, who give us just enough reason to keep watching.