Review by Jacquelin Hipes
It’s not an uncommon scene playing out: two lovers caught on opposite sides of town, trading flirtatious texts as they wait on their significant others. The messages lead to phone calls, which inevitably result in hastily offered excuses as the pair rush away to tumble into bed with one another. A terrible betrayal has just unfolded…or has it? In Azazel Jacobs’ new film the titular lovers aren’t scurrying to a secluded car park or seedy motel for their tryst. Instead they’re husband and wife, meeting in the privacy of their home, hiding an intramarital affair right under the noses of those they’ve promised to leave one another for. Within this off-kilter framework answers aren’t so clear cut. What results is a quietly humorous and intimate look at marriage, loneliness, and the choices we sometimes must make between passion and security.
Michael (Tracy Letts, Homeland) and Mary (Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman) maintain only the flimsiest of pretexts surrounding their marriage. Both keep their lovers well out of sight and always go to the trouble of constructing less provocative reasons for coming home late- how very considerate. A chilly uncertainty permeates their unavoidable encounters at the start and end of each day. This is a couple unwilling to acknowledge any uncomfortable truth, reduced to pseudo-strangers in their own home, tiptoeing around secrets piled as high as the knick-knacks on former aspiring musician Michael’s piano. News of their college-aged son’s impending visit provides an anchor point: after one last weekend as a family, they can finally call it quits. But when a sleepy, accidental kiss one morning leads to much more those plans are suddenly called into question.
Letts and Winger take full advantage of Jacobs’ script, embracing the freedom found in the long stretches of wordless reaction that pepper the movie’s crisp ninety minute runtime. Letts in particular impresses, balancing heartfelt moments of reconciliation with amusing absurdities like pantomiming a fake meeting with his friend over the phone while sitting in an empty parking lot. As the cheaters-turned-cheated-on, Aidan Gillen and Melora Walters carve out a respectable space for themselves as well. Most endearing is that all four behave with such sincerity that one cannot help but hope all of this infidelity somehow works out for the best.
The Lovers is intimately shot, the players predominantly framed from the shoulders up. It lends a feeling of closeness that borders on claustrophobic at times and mirrors the sense of entrapment of the two leads; first with one another and later, perhaps, with their longtime lovers. Mandy Hoffman’s score hearkens back to classic Hollywood or, even better, comic operas. A touch grandiose at times, but it undeniably puts one in the right mood for what transpires.
Very few films content themselves with staying small but this one does, much to its benefit. The confident restraint on display throughout The Lovers pays off and makes for a refreshing reprieve.