REVIEW: The Lovers

4 06 2017

Azazel Jacobs often structures the narrative arc of his film “The Lovers” as a series of couplets. Husband and wife Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger) are each seeing other people, but our first glimpse of their affairs isn’t exactly of romantic enchantment. Still, we can sense the affection through non-verbal communication: the gestures, the body language, the glances.

Once Jacobs cuts to a domestic scene, we see why they find such a thrill in partners who can express themselves more surreptitiously. For Michael and Mary, words have become purely transactional. They are merely vessels for information that they need to maintain their measly, unhappy existence.

What we’re not picking up from them, we gather from Mandy Hoffman’s score. Her vibrant symphony of strings dramatically emphasizes each mundane moment, providing an ironic contrast to Jacobs’ pitch-perfect minimalism. It’s up to the music to span the chasm between our expectations for the romantic comedy and the reality of the miserabilist marital drama.

For a time, that distance closes as Michael and Mary rekindle their flame in the midst of escalating pressures from their romantic partners to disband their official union. Just as neither admits they see someone, neither is willing to engage in overtly romantic gestures. Instead, their coded spousal jargon becomes irresistibly tantric to each other. Consider “The Lovers” an art-house spin on Nancy Meyers’ “It’s Complicated.”

Jacobs never lets us get too intimate with Michael and Mary; for example, a series of flirtatious texts they exchange are completely hidden from our view. Standard cinematic technique would normally dictate us seeing some glimpse of the screen. But it’s only fitting that we should not be privy to the kind of nuanced, internalized communication that can only be built after decades of matrimony. When the tiniest break occurs that might provide clue to their thoughts, such as the tiniest pulling back of Mary’s head by Winger, Jacobs is there to catch and convey it. This granularity, when juxtaposed with the grandiosity of the genre he insists on maintaining, makes for a uniquely delectable take on marital ennui. A-

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