The Lovers; 94min; Rated R
It’s almost a cliché to say that Hollywood worships at the shrine of youth. Our culture is saturated with themes, plots, conflict and tension all focused on the rites of passage from adolescence through thirty-something.
So it’s rare when a film arrives that unabashedly examines the geography of middle age, for while being young can seem intensely chaotic as new romance/sexualty and budding careers dominate, all framed by that slippery slope of identity.
Life as lived during those years past 60, say, can often be fraught with a contrasting sense of ennui and loss. As is evident in “”The Lovers,” those emotions that once stirred and dominated during youth can flatline after some 30 or more years of marriage. For many, resuscitation of that once-magical bond, dimly remembered, can seem elusive if not impossible.
And therein is the essence of this very engaging and honest film. Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) find themselves estranged, not because of any specific brittle issue (they don’t argue, find fault, lash out); rather their lives are defined by the mundane, at home and at work. They share a meal, or not, they say goodnight facing away from each other, and they exude a kind of loneliness when together that while seeming tolerable and practiced on the surface, in reality isn’t. They simply have lost the ability to speak their individual truths and the truths that surround their unmoored marriage.
Hence, it soon becomes evident that they are both having affairs, unbeknownst to the other.
Michael is involved with a volatile, needy ballet instructor, Lucy (Melora Walters). Mary has found renewed passion with a younger man, Robert (Adan Gillen), a budding writer. And so, while Mary and Michel cohabit, they juggle the demands of their newly significant others. For them both, it’s emotionally exhausting, due in great part to the pressure of deciding when and how to end their empty shell of a marriage.
But what makes “The Lovers” so compelling is that writer/director Azazel Jacobs delivers an unexpected curve to what initially feels like an all-too-familiar template. While Mary and Michael’s affairs are in full bloom, they unexpectedly discover one another and a long-lost physical attraction.
Abruptly, to their surprise, they find themselves cheating on their significant others (who sensing a change grow a bit frantic and suspicious). Especially Lucy. Suddenly all four are caught up in a chronic riptide of emotions and perpetual drama that threatens to overwhelm them while proving to be exhausting.
If there is a comedic edge to this film, it is more a depiction of how maddeningly contradictory and conflicted Mary and Michael are and how great the distance is between them. Honest dialogue could ultimately save them, but it is a bridge too far. Until it isn’t. But instead of finding their way back to one another through language, they explore who they have become through frenetic physical contact. It’s déjà vu all over again.
How this all impacts the ending is both a surprise and on the part of Jacobs a bit courageous. It will make you smile or stop and likely say, “Really?”
“The Lovers” is a film that will resonate with adults whose life experience has taken them well into middle age. Its candor is refreshing and always engaging while depicting a world that is too often neglected by Hollywood.