Film explores the way love can be a many-splendored thing


Azazel Jacobs’ “The Lovers” is a complex character study of long-term relationships that takes a clever premise — what if you were cheating on your lover, with your spouse? — and uses it to explore the nuances and ultimate truths of long-term relationships. The film is anchored by a duo of powerhouse performances from Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, who play married couple Mary and Michael, with an arch sophistication mixed with genuine vulnerability.

Mary and Michael have slipped into a marital mundanity, co-existing as cordial roommates who barely speak to each other, rarely listen and seem more awkward around each other than anything else. We aren’t given much history to their relationship, but as we know it to be now, each spouse pours their energy into their extra-marital lover. For him, it’s a kooky, needy dancer, Lucy (Melora Walters), while she has a silver fox of a writer, Robert (Aiden Gillen).

But even those relationships have hit the skids in some ways. Play has become work in their affairs, and their passionate, emotional lovers require a certain amount of upkeep that Mary and Michael don’t seem to be willing to give. Suddenly, the person they sleep next to becomes more and more appealing, and a wild, secretive affair is born, complete with lunchtime romps.

“The Lovers” finds itself in its moments of detail, specificity and stillness. Long pauses punctuate the action and serve as punchlines for the often wordless visual humor. Both Letts and Winger expertly express their characters’ mental state physically, whether frazzled or downtrodden at their less-than-exciting jobs, fraught with uneasiness or comfortably tender with each other. There are times when it can feel a bit too mannered, too tight, and you wish for the film to cut loose a bit. When it does, during a visit with their son Joel (Tyler Ross) and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula), the tension cracks in unexpected ways, though the break is a welcome relief.

One of the unique stylistic choices that Jacobs makes with “The Lovers” is the grand, sweeping orchestral score, composed by Mandy Hoffman. It’s unexpected for a smaller romantic indie drama, but it gives the film a sense of a romantic epic while following the quotidian routine of this couple. It adds a layer of artifice to the film, signifying that this is a heightened reality, and infuses every frame with drama and romance.

While there are times that “The Lovers” feels a bit too stultifying and stiff, the warm performances from the underrated Winger and Letts make the emotions at hand come to life, filling the screen with moments universal and divine, which is especially difficult with such morally complex characters. They prove their might as great screen actors deserving of more roles, but “The Lovers” is not about them as individual performers; it’s about these actors working in tandem with each other, the script, the director and the other actors. The film works as a whole, not a sum of its parts.

The story itself is unexpected, almost like a fable in the way it unpacks the story of the long-term relationship — the norms and expectations; the dangers and pitfalls. It’s a cautionary tale that never passes judgment, an exploration of the way that love can be a many-splendored thing, with many people, some of them twice.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

Ain’t got time to bake cookies? This creation lets you eat edible dough. 
Ain’t got time to bake cookies? This creation lets you eat edible dough. 

What beats your favorite Oreo cookie but still tastes like an Oreo cookie? How about safe and edible Oreo cookie dough.  The Cookie Dough Cafe, an Illinois-based shop that got its start through the popular TV show “Shark Tank,” has created a Cookies & Cream-flavored cookie dough loaded with chunks of Oreo cookies.  For now, those...
Treat yourself to crepes on a weeknight
Treat yourself to crepes on a weeknight

When you're cooking for two and neither of you are particularly picky eaters, you have the luxury of stretching the repertoire every now and then. I recommend these crepes, which are quite doable on a weeknight. The batter, made with white whole-wheat flour, needs only a 15-minute rest. The filling is no more than interesting mushrooms browned in a...
How to travel with tomatoes, freeze pesto and other questions answered
How to travel with tomatoes, freeze pesto and other questions answered

Cookbook author Jeff Koehler recently joined The Washington Post Food staff to answer questions about all things edible. The following are edited excerpts. Recipes whose names are capitalized can be found in the Recipe Finder at washingtonpost.com/recipes. Q: We're visiting my Dad next week; he lives about 400 miles away. I know he would love some...
When it comes to grilling, ‘Fire good’ is my motto
When it comes to grilling, ‘Fire good’ is my motto

We live in a divided nation. And the split goes way deeper than politics. What I’m talking about strikes at the very core of summer cooks: gas vs. charcoal.  Fans of each type of grilling fuel defend their choices with the venom of politicians on Twitter at midnight.  Gas fans paint charcoal grillers as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals...
What to eat for the eclipse
What to eat for the eclipse

Historically, our sun is the only thing guaranteed to be eaten during a solar eclipse. “A frequent theme is the gods are angry, man has displeased them, and they are taking the sun,” said Fred Espenak, an eclipse chaser who has traveled around the world for 27 eclipses. The ancient Chinese believed it was a dragon who snapped up the sun...
More Stories