Film Review – The Lovers
I just want to go on record as saying that I love Debra Winger. I love her a lot. Not in a creepy way (or not in a way that I think is creepy), but I just dig her. I have never made it though Terms of Endearment without weeping uncontrollably, and Shadowlands never fails to move me. I LOVE Black Widow even though I know it’s not that good, and she’s great in An Officer and a Gentleman. (Although I do have some issues with that movie because I wasn’t allowed to see it when it first came out – I was 14 – and it could never live up to the forbidden-fruit hype machine in my mind.) Although she’s continued working over the years, she hasn’t gotten the types of roles I, and others, have felt she’s deserved, and so it’s nice to see her have a lead role in Azazel Jacobs’ new comedy The Lovers. And she’s great in it, which is a blessing because the last third of that movie is crap. I thought about finding a nicer way to say it, but why not just be honest. I was totally digging The Lovers until the final act, and then I sat back in disbelief as it fell apart. But on a positive note, Debra Winger is still the best!
Mary (Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have been married long enough to have a son in college and appeared to have lost interest in each other. They both have serious side affairs and plan on exiting the marriage after one last visit from their son Joel (Tyler Ross). Michael is seeing Lucy (Melora Walters) a high-strung dancer, and Mary’s long-term lover is Robert (Aidan Gillen) a pretentious Irish writer. At first these partners seem super annoying, but as the film goes on it becomes apparent their emotional neediness is a result of being led down the garden path one too many times. At a point when Mary and Michael need a little space from their paramours, they reconnect sexually and start enjoying each other’s company again, which – as one can imagine – further complicates their already convoluted love life. Then their son Joel comes home AND THIS IS WHERE YOU SHOULD WALK OUT OF THE THEATER OR HIT THE STOP BUTTON. TRUST ME ON THIS. ALL THE GOOD WILL YOU HAVE BUILT UP TOWARDS THESE CHARACTERS WILL BE SQUANDERED AND YOU WILL RESENT THE 94 MINUTES YOU WASTED WHEN YOU COULD HAVE BEEN STREAMING PARKS AND REC RERUNS.
For about an hour, this film is pretty dang enjoyable. There is a great scene towards the beginning of the movie where Mary and Michael share a glass of wine, and the shift in their body language over the course of a few minutes is pretty amazing to watch. They start out not quite hostile, but unsure of how to connect anymore. By the end of the scene, they are not friends again, but tensions have eased a bit. It’s those little moments that make the enjoyable parts of this movie work. Jacobs doesn’t shy away from letting the actors show what’s going on rather than explaining things with tons of exposition.
And then Joel shows up and everything devolves into a crappy-ass family drama that is trite and painful to watch. It does not help at all that Joel is horrible (the character as written, not the actor.) Jacobs took all the wry observations from earlier in the film, threw them out the window, and then made everything about Joel’s pain. I don’t care about Joel. I care about how Mary and Michael are going to resolve their dilemmas. Are they going to stay together? Are they going to split up and go off with new partners? Are they going to get tired of all the emotional demands and go it alone? I could not give a rat’s ass about Joel’s parental angst. His girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) is cool though. I’d like to see a movie where she gets fed up with all these annoying people, kills them all, and never gets caught. If you are going to have a third act change of tone, just freaking go for it. And when Joel goes home, we realize our leads are far more horrible than we thought. Turns out, they are capable of sexual intimacy, but have zero emotional intelligence. They’re assholes. While I am complaining, I would like to note, that while Mary and Michael have about equal screen time, Michael gets a complicated back-story and Mary mostly gets to react to things. DEBRA WINGER DESERVES BETTER. Ok. I’m done. It’s a frustrating movie, but it’s just good enough that I am curious to see what Azazel Jacobs does next. Just no young man angst please.