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With: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen, Tyler Ross, Jessica Sula, Lesley Fera, Eric Satterberg, Janine Mitchell
Written by: Azazel Jacobs
Directed by: Azazel Jacobs
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and language
Running Time: 94
Date: 05/05/2017

The Lovers (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cheat Street

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Both of Azazel Jacobs's previous movies, Momma's Man and Terri, came with a discomfiting dark streak. They were almost intentionally feel-bad experiences, but while his new one, The Lovers, retains some darkness, it's of a more gleeful kind. The tone is overall more giddy; it even resembles the form of certain kinds of screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. It's not exactly funny, but it's enjoyable. It puts a great deal of faith in its two leads, Tracy Letts as Michael and Debra Winger as Mary, an old married couple. Their marriage has long since grown stale, and they both have sex partners on the side that they try to keep secret from one another; although their general malaise around each other makes this easy.

Michael enjoys the worshipful attentions of the very fit dancer and dance instructor Lucy (Melora Walters), while Mary has a younger lover in the fiery writer Robert (Aidan Gillen), who likes reading his prose to her as much as he likes making love to her. One night, Michael and Mary find themselves at home together, exhausted; they start drinking wine in front of the TV, and when they wake up, they are face to face and share a sleepy, unexpected, sweet morning kiss. That leads to a suddenly re-charged sex life, which complicates things with their lovers. (When Lucy asks Michael if he's cheating, he says "no," and one could argue that he's not exactly lying.)

Things grow even more complex when Michael and Mary's college-age son Joel (Tyler Ross) comes home for the weekend with his pretty girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula). They had planned to tell him that they were splitting up, but now they don't know what to do. This last section of the film is handled like a play; Jacobs has already laid out the geography of the house in previous scenes, and the discussions and confrontations between the four characters are directed with a strong eye for staging and angles. Likewise, Jacobs's screenplay allows for many wonderful little visual realizations, including a temper tantrum that Joel throws. In his rage, he reveals more than he destroys.

Jacobs never fills in the blanks on much of anything. It's never explained how Michael or Mary met their lovers or how long this has been going on, although we can assume it has been for some time. Since the actors are so good at their work, they have probably generated more sympathy for the characters that Jacobs may have intended, and these blank spots have become more pronounced. Even the ending, which, technically, is hugely satisfying, might seem a bit disappointing to a casual viewer. But for daring viewers, The Lovers is a most wonderful, grown-up romantic comedy with a dash of cynicism.

A24 and Lionsgate's Blu-ray release comes with an optional digital copy. Blu-ray quality is fine, even if it's more of a subtly visual movie than a dazzlingly visual one. Director Azazel Jacobs provides a thoughtful commentary track (he decided to record it before the movie was totally finished, before any kind of critical or audience reaction). There are two featurettes, one a regular making-of number (20 minutes) and another one on the music (13 minutes).

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