Directed by: Azazel Jacobs
Premise: A long married husband and wife (Debra Winger and Tracy Letts) are each embroiled in serious affairs and on the verge of leaving each other. But a sudden spark reignites the passion in their relationship.
What Works: The Lovers is a smart romance that’s equally funny and melancholic. The couple played by Debra Winger and Tracy Letts have allowed the passion in their marriage to die and their relationship is characterized by a tense but unspoken disdain. Both the husband and wife have—unknown to each other—taken a lover. What’s more, the other man and woman want a commitment and Winger and Letts’ characters keep assuring their paramours that the marriage is over and that they are waiting until after the holidays to break the news to their son. But in the interim, Winger and Letts’ characters rediscover each other and spurn their lovers in favor of afternoon romps with their spouse. The scenario of The Lovers is ridiculous but in a way that is credible and funny. The filmmakers identify the idiosyncrasies of desire and the way that people don’t necessarily want what we think we do. The Lovers finds the humor in that paradox but the film also acknowledges the reality of hurt feelings. The other man and woman, played by Melora Walters and Aidan Gillen, are portrayed as sympathetic and fundamentally decent people who are hurt and confused by what’s happening to their relationships. The couple’s son has been affected by the tension in his parent’s marriage and the film deals with that especially well; the consequences of infidelity are real and come to bear in the climax. In a lot of Hollywood romances, characters overcome their problems in a love-conquers-all resolution. The Lovers doesn’t buy into that nor does it suggest that things can go back to the way they were. Instead, life is a cycle of excitements and disappointments and The Lovers offers a portrait of marriage and romance that is complex. The movie questions what it means to be happy and it doesn’t offer easy answers.
What Doesn’t: How the viewer feels about The Lovers may depend on how they feel about infidelity. The movie is about the complicated nature of affairs of the heart and in some respects it is a cynical film. The Lovers suggests that commitment kills passion; it’s only when the couple has given up on each other that they reconnect while bailing on their side pieces when the paramours demand monogamy. The implicit message of The Lovers is that people who enter into committed relationships—or at least these characters—will perpetually idealize the options on the outside. There is some truth in this and The Lovers flies in the face of what most movie romances tell us about the nature of love. That’s a bold thing to do but it also denies some of the pleasures that fans of romantic movies look for in these kinds of stories.
DVD extras: Commentary track and featurettes.
Bottom Line: The Lovers is smarter and more entertaining than the average romantic comedy. It’s a movie with something to say about the nature of love and passion and what it means to commit to a relationship and the picture is thoughtful and provocative as well as very funny in a bittersweet way.
Episode: #685 (February 11, 2018)