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-

F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 19, 2011)

19 08 2011

Anne Hathaway can do so much better than the romantic rut she’s leading herself into. The actress seems to have an incredibly fiery, passionate base of detractors, something that I really don’t understand. Clearly they haven’t seen “Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme’s 2008 film that is my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Hathaway, in a stunning performance that deserved the Oscar nomination it received, plays not the title character but rather her sister, Kym, who is on furloughs for the weekend from rehab. She’s unlikable with a prickly exterior, something portrayed with gusto by the normally charming actress. Yet underneath her thick-skin lies a vulnerable and hurting person, still reeling from tragedy earlier in her life. Caught at a crossroads between moving on and accepting responsibility, she stands uncertainly and without confidence to face a world colored by the consequences of her actions.

Hathaway brings such a vibrant and visible contrast of these two sides of Kym to the screen, fully realizing her from her flaws to her fears to her love to her guilt. It’s one of those miraculous performances by an actress that carries such tremendous emotional nuance that it continues to reward those who dare to take the gut-wrenching roller-coaster ride with the movie again.

What makes “Rachel Getting Married” even better is that every aspect of the film is on par with Hathaway’s towering performance.  Jonathan Demme’s direction is impeccable, capturing the intensity of every moment with a fly-on-the-wall sensibility.  The tension and the mood is right in every moment, although I will give my one caveat in this glowing review: fast forward through the wedding reception dancing.  It’s a bloated sequence that offers a lot of excess with a few cutaway shots to Kym.  Surely it couldn’t have been that way in the brilliant script by Jenny Lumet, director Sydney’s daughter, which paints a portrait of a family torn asunder by a disaster yet forced to put aside the past and come together for a wedding.

The bride, Rachel, is burdened on what should be the happiest weekend of her life by her sister Kym’s re-entry into society, something that comes with many bumps.  With the skilled Rosemarie DeWitt behind the wheel, Rachel weathers these events with increasing emotional fervor until she reaches a breaking point.  It’s a tour de force to rival Hathaway’s work, snubbed of a deserving Oscar nomination – and maybe even a win.  She’s pitch perfect throughout as she tries to maintain her happiness and sanity in the presence of the self-proclaimed “God of Death.”

The sisters are also estranged from their mother Abby, played by Debra Winger, whose performance epitomizes art imitating life as the actress herself has been practically estranged from serious cinema for over a decade.  Her emotional distance echoes her reaction to the divisive family tragedy as she has tried to totally move on and forget the whole thing.  Winger’s quiet character is very mysterious and, like Hathaway’s Kym, holds much to be discovered in her work the second time around.  While Abby may not be easily embraceable, neither is the movie.  But the difference between the two is that “Rachel Getting Married” as a whole is truly endearing, a powerful portrait of the power of love and family through countless issues.