The Lovers is billed as a comedy, but its comedic moments are mixed with sadness. Or maybe it’s the other way around. The serious moments are also funny, if in a voyeuristic way. Maybe comedy is just an easier genre to sell than “kinda weird.”
Written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, the story begins with a dispassionate couple, Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts). Both are having secret affairs, and both mistresses (Melora Walters and Aidan Gillen) want their partner to break up with their spouse. However, the married couple is nervous about the imminent arrival of their son, Joel (Tyler Ross) and his girlfriend. They don’t want to break it off and make a scene just yet, because Joel is the type of white boy that punches walls when he gets angry.
Where things get interesting (and “kinda weird”) is when feelings (and intense sexual desire) start to rise up again between Mary and Michael. Since their affairs are so well-established, it’s almost like they’re both cheating on their lovers with their spouse. They are so distant at the start of the film that their new spark seems risqué.
Though the plot might seem only a little quirky, the execution enhances the spectacle of the simple story. Released by A24—distributor of equally bizarre rom-coms Swiss Army Man and The Lobster—The Lovers relishes in slow, awkward silences, backed up by a powerful symphonic orchestra. Every minute detail gains a level of significance, even the strange flirtations. Make no mistake, The Lovers is a small, internalized film, but the presence of such a bold orchestration makes it feel as big as a summer blockbuster.
The normalization of cheating in the narrative makes it clear that none of the characters are great role models. However, Jacobs doesn’t romanticize the fact that these aren’t “good” people. Nor is their “badness” of character the punchline. Even if Aidan Gillen’s accent is impossible to pin down, the characters feel real and authentic, and their poor decisions are just part of how they operate.
The imminent arrival of Mary and Michael’s son keeps the tension intact and the narrative on track, though it’s clear that there is so much more to explore in this world. With a 94-minute run-time, The Lovers is both succinct and expansive. The layered cinematography and ever-present mirror shots allow for several reactions to play out at once, giving the movie more magic per minute. To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded another twenty. I got so caught up in the chemistry and the charisma that I was disappointed it was over.
If it’s your cup of tea, The Lovers is a comedy that might make you cry. Otherwise, you may leave underwhelmed and confused. Either way, hopefully you’ll feel a little bit better about your love life.