Published May 18, 2017Writer-director Azazel Jacobs (2011's Terri) has done the nearly impossible: He's made a film with unlikeable characters doing morally reprehensible things that's hard not to fall for.
Starring underrated actors Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment, The Ranch) and Tracy Letts (Homeland, Wiener-Dog), The Lovers concerns itself with Mary and Michael, a married couple whose relationship is well past its prime.
Although never openly acknowledged to one another, both Mary and Michael have been having affairs for who knows how long, and both have secret plans to leave one another once their son Joel (Tyler Ross) and his college girlfriend, Erin (Jessica Sula), come for a visit. But a strange thing happens ahead of their arrival: They start to fall in love with each other, all over again. Now, the two parents must decide whether or not to commit to their respective flings or come clean and try to make things work.
Early on, The Lovers can be a bit of a bore, especially for anyone unaccustomed to Winger and Letts' dry, deadpan deliveries. Questions like how and why their marriage got to this point remain unanswered, and their alternatives (supporting characters played by Aidan Gillen, a pretentious author, and Melora Walters, a fiery dancer) don't seem much better.
But all of that changes halfway through the film once Joel and Erin arrive. Suddenly, the film makes a huge tonal shift, as Michael and Mary come to terms with what they've been doing and its affect on their family and sanity. It's in these moments that Jacobs injects a whole lot of emotional resonance and honesty to a subject often portrayed in movies and TV shows as being taboo at best, and at worst downright despicable.
Sadly, The Lovers takes the easy way out in its last few moments of screen time, delivering an ending that's meant to provide some sort of gratification, but actually ends up doing the opposite. Still, at least for a decent chunk of time, Jacobs and his dig for a truth not often mined in most romantic comedies (if you can call this one): That love takes many shapes, and is confusing enough that, even by old age, you won't have figured everything out.