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!
Read Paula’s interview with Azazel Jacobs and Tracy Letts
Photos by Robb Rosenfeld courtesy of A24
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