Azazel Jacobs’ The Lovers spends its first half as a fairly routine story of marital infidelity that follows a couple (playwright Tracy Letts and Debra Winger) whose marriage has long grown stale and later transforms into a drama about rediscovery and generational misunderstandings that works much better than the picture’s first half.
As the film opens, Letts’ Michael and Winger’s Mary are both office drones who spend more time having affairs – Letts with Melora Walters’ Lucy, a dancer, and Winger with Aidan Gillen’s Robert – than being around each other. It’s probably for the best as they have little to say to each other and their interactions are barely transactional.
However, one morning they awake facing each other and something seems to click. Thereafter, the two rekindle their spark and, well, have sex all over their house. Whether this has anything to do with the fact that their son, Joel (Tyler Ross), will be arriving for a visit in a few days with his girlfriend, Erin (Jessica Sula), is questionable. During the only scene in which we see Joel prior to his arrival, he is warning Erin that his parents hate each other. So, you can imagine his surprise when he arrives home and finds the situation to be otherwise.
The first two halves of the film are polar opposites – the first is routine almost to the point that you begin to lost interest in the characters and the second half perks up significantly, not only due to a family blowout, but also because you begin to see the characters more as people, rather than indie movie caricatures. The film’s first half contains some stilted dialogue – especially a sequence during which Letts, while on the phone, pretends to see someone he knows – while the second half does a better job at capturing how people actually talk.
So, could I recommend The Lovers? Almost. Winger gives her best performance in years and Letts, mostly known for his writing, also provides some solid work. The supporting cast – Gillen, Walters, Ross and Sula – are also effective.
But the film’s first half is sluggish and much of the drama in the picture feels manufactured – in other words, fights occur between characters at the right points to move the plot forward and some of them don’t feel natural or are too exaggerated. All in all, The Lovers has some nice moments – including a charming ending – but it’s the type of movie that nearly works, but doesn’t quite.