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Debra Winger and Tracy Letts shine in ‘The Lovers’

Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star in “The Lovers.”
Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star in “The Lovers.” A24 via TNS

It’s been days since I viewed “The Lovers,” and I’m still not sure what to make of it. It feels like a low-budget Indie film, which it is — it debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.

It is not big on dialogue, with lots of cavernous spaces instead of conversation, since the marrieds (Debra Winger and Tracy Letts) have little to say to each other after 25 years of a disappointing marriage.

At its core, the film is about infidelity, since both parties are having affairs with younger people, and each is planning to spring the news on his/her spouse in the very near future.

Infidelity is not a new subject, but in the form of 60-something-year-olds with pot bellies, wrinkles and sagging everything, it comes across as vaguely amusing when the scenes turn to sex (as they often do). Mary and Michael have both resolved themselves to a life of numbing mediocrity. Both seem to have unfulfilling jobs where they can get away with showing up late for work, taking long lunches for trysts with their lovers, and arriving at work looking like they were just mugged in the parking lot.

To make matters worse, they have not upped their standards in the lovers they have chosen, and both have promised they will be leaving home as soon as they can spring the news on their spouse, and, by the way, on their collegiate son Joel (Tyler Ross).

Michael’s paramour Lucy (Melora Walters) is a middle-aged dancer who is petulant, vindictive, highly emotional and totally self-absorbed. Although we wonder what Michael sees in Lucy, we know from innuendo that this is not Michael’s first trip to the dark side. We can wonder what Lucy sees in Michael, who is hardly Mr. Universe as he struts around in his shorts with his stomach taking the lead. However, to his credit, Michael is both charming and disarming — causing one to think he may have been quite a success if he had pursued a career in sales.

On the other hand, Mary’s lover Robert (Aidan Gillen) is no prize either. Also self-absorbed, he is a one-time writer of sorts who has apparently hit a dry spell and seems to have nothing to do but chain smoke and lie in wait for Mary to break from work. With no evident means of support, he lives in a tiny apartment drafting prose that literally puts Mary to sleep.

As for Mary, who always looks like she misplaced her hairbrush and slept in her clothes, she comes alive when she is with Robert, but after the boredom of her married life, who can blame her?

Truth is, we don’t blame any of them for their current situation. As all parties anticipate the great split and even greater union to come, we can only imagine the fire/frying pan adage.

As if the situation were not already zany, the zinger that turns this dark comedic movie even darker is that Mary and Michael suddenly rediscover each other as sexual beings. After long years of non-communication, they are strangers to each other. It is the newness of discovering the stranger in each that pulls the couple together sexually, and each ponders what this can mean for the other lovers and their futures. It also baffles son Joel when he sees his parents acting in a loving way toward each other. It seems to invalidate all he has observed over the years and what he has promised his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) that she will find.

The acting is superb on the part of the entire cast. With so much silence that hangs between Winger and Letts, they must rely on facial expressions and body language to communicate to the audience. This is no easy task. Further, their expressions and actions are the focus of high humor as we look at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. If lies and deceit were the stuff of stars, this would be a five-star movie. It is well worth seeing for its fine cast and provocative thought.

Caroline McVitty is a former features writer for Today’s Post in King of Prussia, Pa., and now lives on Hilton Head Island. To reach her or to read more of her reviews, visit mcvittymovies.wordpress.com.

‘The Lovers’

Starring Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen, Melora Walters, Tyler Ross, Jessica Sula. Running time: 1 hr. 49. Rated R for sexuality and language.

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