That was the question that writer/director Azazel Jacobs started with when he sat down to write the script for The Lovers. Ninety-four minutes later, we get the answer.
The Lovers is a film about a long married couple who are cheating on each other; but who end up cheating with each other. It’s a great premise. But for me, what sets this film apart from so many others is that neither the married couple nor their lovers are young. Thank you Mr. Jacobs for recognizing that there are literally millions of people out there who are not Millennials; and that those of us over the age of 50 not only live and love, but also make love.
Debra Winger and Tracy Letts
Tracy Letts (award-winning playwright of August: Osage County, and Tony Award-winning actor) as the disgruntled and harried middle-aged husband, is truly spectacular here. I love the scene where he’s talking on the phone and pretends to be distracted by “Bob.” It’s so well done and acted that until the frame widens out and you see that he is actually in a parking lot looking at a wall, you’re not quite sure that “Bob” is not really just off camera. I also nearly cried when his girlfriend, Lucy (an hysterical Melora Walters) asks him if he has been cheating on her and he takes a beat and then says, “Yuch; as if.” Letts’ character is funny, maddening, and yes, even a little bit sexy. But he also shows humanity and heart.
Debra Winger – who has been on the large screen far too infrequently of late – was Jacob’s first choice for the part of the wife, Mary, and whom the director had in mind when he wrote the script. As he explained, “with her skill, I knew she would bring a life and a truth to the role beyond what I could hope for. It challenged me to write with an intimidating candidness that would hopefully be deserving of her.” And it is. With her throaty laugh and just under the surface sensuality, Winger embodies the role and brings it a certain grace. And kudos to the star for allowing not-always flattering close-ups that reveal both her wrinkles and her age.
Tyler Ross, Debra Winger, Jessica Sula, and Tracy Letts
Throughout the film, Letts and Winger spar with each other and their lovers like characters in the screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. Melora Walters and Aidan Gillen play the “other” lovers with just the right combination of desperation and exasperation. Tyler Ross and Jessica Sula are their son and his girlfriend, both of whom seem utterly surprised that parents are people, too.
In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about this film was the music. When it first comes in, it’s lovely and lyrical. But then it becomes overpowering. It not only telegraphs what we are about to see and hear, but also how we are supposed to feel about it. The adage, “less is more” was never so appropriate.
But that is just a minor bump in the road. Overall, this quirky little film is fun and surprising, i.e., great entertainment. As for Jacob’s question, “Can romance survive love??” In this film, the answer is an emphatic yes!
Photos by Robb Rosenfeld courtesy of A24