Movie review: 'The Lovers'

Brad Keefe

In the many, many movies about young love, there's a recurrent theme that we live and learn lessons, and then it's happily ever after.

To paraphrase John Cusack's Rob Gordon in “High Fidelity,” am I miserable because I watch movies about love, or do I watch movies about love because I'm miserable?

“The Lovers” is a refreshing and frank comedy about a different kind of relationship than you typically see onscreen. Imagine an older married couple going through similar foibles accompanied by the cynicism of age. Sorry, kids. It doesn't get easier.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are a long-married couple in the stage of marriage where they're essentially living as semi-pleasant roommates. They're empty-nesters with a clear history that comes into focus smartly as the movie progresses.

They also are both on the verge of leaving each other, as they are having way more passionate affairs with their respective other others (Aidan Gillen and Melora Walters).

This is when things get complicated, as matters of love are wont to do.

Mary and Michael find an unexpected spark, not through couple's therapy, but through the same unexplained chemistry that leads people to hook up in the first place.

So the unhappily married two suddenly find themselves “cheating” on their respective other partners with each other, all while on the verge of finally ending the marriage.

If there are some minor stumbles in the delivery, I give plenty of credit to writer-director Azazel Jacobs for this concept. “The Lovers” plays out nicely with a small cast and unveils its story in a way that generally defies convention.

The layers of hi-infidelity laid out here make for some fantastic low-key comedy, with an added layer of pathos. The movie only hints at the moments of gold that Mary and Michael are rekindling, with more clear focus on the pain they've earlier inflicted.

“The Lovers” definitely benefits greatly from its performances. Winger is superb on every level; it's the kind of role that gives new depth to her days as a bigger Hollywood star.

That the whole thing feels a bit like a stage play makes it a great fit for Letts, who wrote the amazing (and hard to watch) “Killer Joe.” He kills in the role, and I hope people note this. Add in Irish character actor Gillen (“Game of Thrones” et al.) and Walters (best known still for her amazing turn in “Boogie Nights”), and it's hard to find flaws.

The ending is not immediately fulfilling in a traditional sense, but I liked it more and more the more I thought about it later, which is apropos for some of the endings of relationships I've had.

“The Lovers”

Opens Friday

4 stars out of 5