Year: 2017
Director(s): Azazel Jacobs
Writer(s): Azazel Jacobs
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 94 mins

Synopsis: On the brink of calling it quits, the spark between a dispassionate couple leads them into an impulsive romance. (Source)

Hollywood likes to treat love and marriage as a happy ending. Of course, real life is way more complicated, and its this view that Azazel Jacobs expresses in The Lovers. Undoubtedly one of the year’s most romantic films, it’s also one that dances to its own beat, featuring a dash of irreverence, lots of charm and a smart script that renders its hapless lovers in a sobering place of complacency. Jacobs picks apart a dead end relationship to really question where things can go wrong and why passion is something that has to be continually refreshed in order to sustain its thrill. Stars Debra Winger and Tracy Letts shine above and beyond, delivering complex characters that thrive amidst a spontaneous combustion of midlife angst and infectious awakening.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are in a rut. The couple are overworked from their 9-5’s, strained from their loveless marriage and actively work to avoid each other at home. Their relationship is pretty much dead, but neither want to admit it, instead allowing a thick air of unsaid ambivalence to stir between them as they trade the crutch of their complacency with extramarital affairs. With both their respective, secret lovers growing more needy by the minute, Mary and Michael suddenly realize that freedom comes in the form of rekindling their love for one another, despite their estranged bond. Things come to a head in the form of a visit from their son, with the pair individually deciding to keep up appearances one last time before calling it off for good. Working towards a definite break, feelings begin to develop between Mary and Michael, and suddenly the prospect of separation is much easier said than done.

Jacobs’ film is one that lives in the details, using restraint to create depth and character through a candid relationship. This is a smart portrait about two people sleepwalking through life, awakened in the most unlikely of ways. The best thing that Jacobs does is set a routine of daily repetition for both of his characters, illustrating their struggles with the mundane. Because Mary and Michael are so fleshed out individually, their time together really feels like moments of respite, as they fall in love with each other again through a series of small occurrences and a hidden spark. Visually, Jacobs handles his lovers’ twisty relationship with delicacy, always using a smart sense of framing and composition to show how their separate lives begin to intertwine, despite the two being worlds apart. If there’s one takeaway though, it should be that the film is breezy, funny and light on its feet, even as its larger ideas of commitment and complacency ring with poignancy.

As this is a focused, character affair, it would be nowhere without the brave performances of stars Debra Winger and Tracy Letts. As Michael, Letts is a perfect everyman, bored with his cubicle and looking for any way to feel again. Letts’ comedic timing is stellar, playing everything straight and finding a humor that seeps through his despair. As Mary, Winger is a vision, delivering most of her role by what she doesn’t say. Though she feels totally organic and natural, there isn’t a single thing wasted in her performance, be it a stray, awkward glance or the way she carries herself – her body language is everything and its deafening. Together, the two really create an evolving portrait of late life romance that stings and and amuses all the same.

Above all, The Lovers is raw and honest, finally representing midlife romance in a way that feels earned and rarely seen. As in real life, the film doesn’t end the way we expect, but celebrates these type of relationships for how messy and spontaneous they can be. The film is worth it even if just for the performances of Winger and Letts, but Jacobs’ direction is a marvel of its own, eschewing typical romcom trappings for a no-frills depiction of how love finds a way – and never in the way we plan for.