Empty nesters Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have been married for 20-plus years, but they have probably only been happy for about five of them. Now they awkwardly stumble around each other, trying not to speak and trying harder not to upset each other. The look in their eyes says it all. They have been doing this dance for some time now, maybe a decade, maybe more. They’ve got to that part in their relationship where every question is a clarifying one because they didn’t bother listening the first time around. And they’re not listening now either. It’s hard to say when this all started, but when it did, silence fit their marriage as naturally as affection once did.
All things considered, it’s no surprise to learn that Michael is getting some action on the side from a dancer, Lucy (Melora Walters), and having a difficult time juggling the lies that come with an affair—including maintaining a semblance of a work-life. Mary is also struggling in the cheating department. Her beau is a writer, Robert (Aidan Gillen), who is patiently waiting for Mary to leave Michael while Mary’s coworkers are patiently waiting for her to get her act together and handle her part of the project.
Neither Michael nor Mary knows the other is stepping out on them, but they have their suspicions. One can only work late so many times before questions arise. But neither wants to be the one who lights the fire and invites speculation. Then again, maybe they enjoy this dance of deception; the spark in their marriage blew out long ago. Unfortunately, so did the spark of their affairs. Sex has once again grown routine. The only way to get it lit is to cheat once more, this time with each other.
Ironically titled The Lovers, Mary and Michael and Michael and Lucy and Mary and Robert are anything but. Instead, they are slowly suffocating themselves and everyone around them—especially their rage-prone son, Joel (Tyler Ross)—in their beige-colored suburban misery. It’s a familiar story, but if writer/director Azazel Jacobs has any insights into why and what it all means, he isn’t in any hurry to reveal it.
Though The Lovers is an interesting look at a marriage 25 years in, watching it is such a slog that any revelations or insights dribble pass without notice. Instead, we feel the agony of awkward silences and the pain of feeling trapped. Though the runtime is only 94 minutes, it feels much longer. Painfully long. Miserably long. Watching it, you might even want to step out on it and court a more interesting movie—hopefully something with a spark. Maybe you ought to. I doubt The Lovers would blame you.
The Lovers (2017)
Written and directed by Azazel Jacobs
Produced by Azazel Jacobs, Ben LeClair, Chris Stinson
Starring: Tracy Letts, Debra Winger, Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen, Tyler Ross, Jessica Sula
A24, Rated R, Running time 94 minutes, Opens May 19, 2017