Friday, May 5, 2017

the lovers

"That was not well-done... The music was awful and the house was ugly." That was one salty patron's comment as she left my screening of The Lovers, a film written and directed by Azazel Jacobs (Terri, Momma's Man). She's not wrong, per se, but those elements are sort of the point. A suburban
California couple Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are living in parallel planes, both secretly in relationships with other people. The movie focuses mainly upon their awkwardness and shared avoidance of truths as they navigate the logistics of their separate trysts. The couple also end up surprisingly finding themselves enjoying each other sexually again--perhaps to cool their guilt and tensions. It's nice and unusual to see a couple of this age in lead roles even if their characters are as simultaneously sunny and dreary as their terra cotta home. The loud, swirling romantic waltz music by Mandy Hoffman is definitely a risk, but it sort of works in that it does nothing but add irony to the knowing blandness (hence too the generic title) of this story. Visually, Jacobs offers up some symbolic doubling motifs (double wall art placements, the couple's sad cubicles, stoves, smartphones, and pillows)--a mirror shot cuts Michael in two. The movie is most notable though, I think, for giving Debra Winger a strong role to work with. I will forgive the shortcomings of any movie that has Debra Winger in it. She's such a natural actor and alive screen presence. Letts does pretty well as her husband, but his stagy, actorly choices are occasionally too obvious. I do wish Melora Walters, another terrific actress, most memorable for her emotional turn in Magnolia (nearly twenty years ago!) had more to do than a few dancing sequences and an inexplicably urgent dependence on the flavorless Michael. Overall, it's a fine film, equally riskily vibrant as it is flat. ***

-Jeffery Berg

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