The Lovers movie still of Debra Winger seated on sofa looking pensive

The Lovers

The Lovers is a dreary rom-com set around a long-married couple having secret affairs. Dull dialogue, few laughs, unappealing characters.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Review: (rolanstein)
Long-married middle-aged empty-nester couple Micheal (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger) are both carrying on secret affairs. With their respective lovers, ballet teacher Lucy (Melora Walters) and writer Robert (Aidan Gillen), demanding full commitments, they are working up to calling time on their marriage, when out of the blue their long-dormant sexual relationship reignites.

What’s Good

  • The ‘naturalistic’ dialogue and performances from leads Tracy Letts and Debra Winger.
  • There’s a scene in the concluding stages in which music is used to poignant effect – unfortunately, it’s the only part of the film with any emotional impact at all.

What’s Not

  • Naturalistic the dialogue may be, but that ain’t enough in itself. Good naturalistic dialogue is not really anything like its real-life relation – it has to be so much more. It performs multiple dramatic functions (eg: exposition, moving the drama forward, revealing aspects of character). Most of all, in combination with other dramatic elements, it must keep us interested, perhaps by making us laugh, endearing us to a character (or the opposite), or affording some insight into their psychology or relationships. The Lovers is dialogue heavy; there’s not a lot of action. Hence, the dialogue must work and work well. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t sparkle. There is precious little wit. In other words, it is too much like dialogue in real life!
  • The unappealing characters. Letts and Winger do their best, but their characters are so damned bland – as drab as the dialogue. And their lovers are thoroughly unlikeable! Robert is whiny and a bit creepy. Lucy is whiny and neurotic – but worse, she hisses (watch the trailer)! Then there’s Michael and Mary’s college student son Joel (Tyler Ross), who comes to visit over a weekend with sweet girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula). This mopey brat has “issues” with his parents and at one point smashes a hole in a wall with his fist. How gratifying to have been able to respond with a fist to his solar plexus, but alas, the limitations of cinema…
  • There is zero on-screen chemistry between Letts and Winger. Their sex scenes are sort of uncomfortable to watch cos they just don’t seem right together. Their affairs don’t exactly sizzle with sexual heat, either.
  • The affairs are implausible. Michael and Mary are office workers who do not find much inspiration in their jobs (or anything else), yet both have younger lovers involved in the arts. So what is their drawing power? Why, especially, would a ballet instructor fall for a much older semi-somnambulent type like Michael?
  • Much could have been forgiven if the humour had hit the spot, but it doesn’t. At best, I managed a smirk or two. More charitable members of the audience chuckled here and there. Evidently they were not simmering with irritation at the characters or finding the piece as tedious as I.
  • There’s a self-conscious cuteness to the ending, a too-deliberate subversion of comedic form that I found jarring. Elaborating would be spoiling, so I’ll leave it at that.

The set-up here is very Woody Allen; if this had been his film, the reviewer gallery would have howled with derision – and rightly so. Yet The Lovers has received widespread critical acclaim. Go figure – I can’t.

The Lovers features: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen, Melora Walters
Writer/Director: Azazel Jacobs
Runtime: 97 min

Australian release date: The Lovers screening at Cinema Paradiso in Perth from 5 Sep 2017

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