The Lovers is a romantic comedy about a long-married couple, each of whom is having an affair. When something re-ignites their passion for each other, they begin to cheat on their lovers. And then the fun really begins. (Read the review.)
I recently had the chance to sit down with Azazel Jacobs, who wrote and directed The Lovers, and actor, Tracy Letts, who stars with Debra Winger, to talk about the film.
Azalea, how did you hit upon the premise of this film, can romance survive love? And why focus on a middle-aged couple?
One of the things that happened to me when I got into my 40’s was that a bunch of couples I knew were no longer couples. It was hard for me to think about their love not existing any more. In some ways, that was the jumping off point for me. And the question became whether or not they’d get back together again. The possibility that we can get so far away from each other, but that we can meet up again fascinated me. I also liked the idea that at one point we’re with someone and have an impression of them, but even when we walk away from that relationship, we still carry them with us.
Tracy Letts and Debra Winger
Finding the perfect combination of people for the lead roles was critical. I know you had been in touch with Debra Winger for years and had, in fact, written the role of Mary just for her. But how did you go about finding the perfect husband? How did Tracy Letts fit the bill?
I was looking for someone on Debra’s level. My long-time casting director suggested Tracy. I first became aware of him through the film, Killer Joe (the 2011 crime thriller whose screenplay Letts had written). I also admired his work in The Big Short. I said, yeh, wow, that’s him. I felt like I could see him in this role, too.
Tracy, this role is a departure from your usual stage work with its serious characters. What appealed to you about it?
It’s about middle aged people who not only love; but there’s also sexuality. Normally, when we see people in middle age in films, they’re settled, they’re done – as if life stops at a certain age. But it’s not true for me or for anyone I know. We keep changing and working, trying to improve ourselves and failing – we keep failing. Showing middle-aged people with that kind of complexity was very compelling to me.
Azazel, is this a film about affairs or about relationships?
Definitely relationships. That’s something that I really hope comes across. I understand the issues and the hurt and pain. I am interested in how we are ultimately similar and how we connect to one another; and how we are trying to connect to each other and how we can get apart from each other. I think of it as much more of a love story; and I see the connection between all of these characters. And I see the love despite the anger and the real damage.
Tracy, what do you want people to walk away with from this film?
I hope they walk away seeing something about these people that they can apply to their own lives. It takes a lot of energy to create and maintain a relationship and how one manifests that energy is very individual. But you don’t settle into that. There has to be something that is activated with energy, interest, and curiosity. How do you keep your curiosity about someone else? I hope that people re-invigorate that energy with their partner. And I think we’ve already seen some of that in the responses to the film. I hope people relate the film to their own lives. I guess that’s a hifalutin goal, but that’s my goal.
Photo credit: Robb Rosenfeld courtesy of A24
Top: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Tyler Ross and Jessica Sula
The Victorian house featured prominently in Mike Mills’ new film, 20th Century Women, might serve as a metaphor for its inhabitants, a rumpled mis-matched group with great potential but still works in progress. Mills, who previously gave us Beginners, a film based on his father coming out gay at age 75 (Read the review), now tells us about his mother, played by a radiant Annette Bening.
Like Mills’ mother, Janet, Bening’s Dorothea Fields works as a draftsperson, but the film centers around the ramshackled home where she lives with her son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), and her tenants, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and William (Billy Crudup), a handyman who earns his rent by working on the house. A frequent visitor is Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie’s best friend who, dodging her therapist-mom, often comes over to sleep in his bedroom, but insists on keeping their relationship platonic.
Lucas Jade Zumann and Annette Bening
Set in Santa Barbara, California, in 1979, the film looks back on the hippie-era 70s. There’s great attention to details, from the cars, including the Ford Galaxy that catches fire at the beginning of the film, and the aging VW defaced with graffiti, to the clothing, the Birkenstocks worn by Dorothea, and the hot pants worn by Abbie. Drives along California’s winding highways are lit up in psychedelic colors.
Dorothea is a free spirit, but where her son is concerned, she’s a control freak. When he participates in a crazy stunt which renders him unconscious for 30 minutes, she’s distraught and draws the net even tighter. Jamie responds by taking off with friends for a night in Los Angeles. Dorothea waits up, her black and white cat curled by her side, until he comes home safely.
While Dorothea purports to be a hands-on parent, she worries that Jamie, being raised without a father, needs other influences in his life. Yet she makes the bizarre move to enlist, not William, but the team of Abbie and Julie to help raise her son. Both women are handling their own problems. Abbie, recovering from cervical cancer, is told she probably won’t be able to have children. Julie has unprotected sex in the back of a car and worries she might be pregnant. Still, each woman takes on her assignment with a seriousness that will engage Jamie while alarming Dorothea. Abbie gives Jamie copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves with in depth discussions about a woman’s anatomy. Julie takes Jamie on an overnight trip up the coast, but he leaves their hotel room when she refuses to have sex with him.
Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig
Dorothea has a way of rationalizing her actions. When Jamie attacks her chain-smoking, she says that she began smoking when it was romantic. When she’s challenged about not being happy, she responds: “Wondering if you’re happy is just a shortcut to being depressed.” Dorothea’s belongings are flashed on the screen, while Jamie in voice overs says that his mother was born in 1924, as if being a Depression era baby explains her behavior.
This is a brave, fascinating performance by Bening. She captures the contradictions in Dorothea’s personality without ever turning her into a cliché. Gerwig, her hair dyed fuchsia, literally throws herself into the role, dancing up a storm with Jamie when she takes him drinking at a club. Fanning’s Julie is a girl on the brink of womanhood who recognizes her appeal to men, but fails to see how she is torturing Jamie by keeping herself at arm’s length. As Jamie, Zumann is so natural as a 14 year old straining for more freedom, it seems like he’s not acting. Crudup, looking less buff than in previous films, seems to float in and out of the women’s lives, sleeping with Abbie, then kissing Dorothea. Although he’s the most obvious person to mentor Jamie, Dorothea rejects that idea, something that has less to do with William and everything to do with Dorothea’s views on men. She volunteers few details about her ex-husband who no longer calls her son. While she accepts a date with a co-worker, we never witness them going out.
Now that Mills has given us portraits of his father and mother, might stories of other family members follow?
Photos courtesy of A24