Written and Directed by Azazel Jacobs
Starring Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen, Melora Walters, Tyler Ross, Jessica Sula
BFI London Film Festival Review by Chris Olson
There is a messiness to this black comedy drama from writer director Azazel Jacobs that reflects the central conflict which consumes its two central characters. Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are a married couple both currently engaging in well established affairs. Over the course of a few days, the pair independently and unbeknonst to the other plan to end their marriage and esconce with their respective lover. With the announcement that their son Joel (Tyler Ross) and his girlfiend Erin (Jessica Sula) will be arriving in a few days, these cold and detached spouses begin to experience a renaissance in their original affections for each other. It's like watching a married couple start to have an affair with themselves!
Tonally rich and steeped with excellent performances, The Lovers is a film that benefits from not trying too hard. The premise, handled with less care, could have turned into something rather tawdry and saccharine. Instead we are offered a largely compelling and realistic glimpse into the deceptions of modern life and the attempts at fulfillment many people seek to have. Their relationship, ironically, is explored with brutal honesty by the filmmakers, touching on the detachment yes, but also the flirting and chemistry, we are delivered two believable people approaching a tragic impasse in their lives and feel compassion at the difficulty they experience trying to find direction among the chaos of life.
Letts is an exceptional performer, and his role here is no less outstanding. Turning in plenty of subtle comedy and enjoyable yearning, his quest to find peace becomes the most intriguing aspect to his character. Likewise, the off-kilter display in the main section of the film by Winger is a spectacular reflection of how mutinuous her character is feeling and the lack of balance in her life is physically mirrored in her clumsiness. Tyler Ross copes admirably as the child from a not-quite-yet broken home, and Sula is excellent as the super supportive GF.
Aidan Gillen, who plays one of The Lovers, is also decent as the jealous type struggling to deal with the lack of action on his cheater's behalf. And lastly Melora Walters is a knockout as the quirky ballet teacher with a vicious side.
Large quantities of The Lovers have a televisual quality to them, and on numerous occasions I felt the bumbling trappings of a great show like Curb Your Enthusiasm. Comedy is so often better performed in TV than it is in film that this could very well be to its benefit. Using familiar locations such as office spaces and their home, contributed to this atmosphere too.
The most important aspect of a comedy film like this is whether the script is funny, and for all intents and purposes Jacobs delivers this in full. There is a cynical charm to a lot of the dialogue and plenty of twisted hypocrisy that makes the characters rounded and interesting without ladling on morality lessons. It also has the delightful appeal of a modern rom-com, in particular sequences where Mary and Michael send goofy texts to each other like school kids.
Intimate without feeling schmaltzy and full to the brim with deceit and affection, The Lovers is a tale of connection for the more mature/seasoned veteran of the romance genre, offering textual relationships that still have the ability to surprise us.
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