The Lovers feels as if it’s missing something. My first thought was that it’s missing narration by Woody Allen, but that seems a little unfair. More than that, The Lovers feels like a Rohmer comedy without the comedy, the sort of barely sketched narrative that overreaches in terms of mood (the soundtrack, which I loved, doesn’t fit the piece at all) to make the grander point of … what, exactly? People don’t change? Love is fluid? Marriage is hard? I’m struggling to think of a single aspect of this story that hasn’t been done to death already by better (and even lesser) directors.
Tracy Letts and Debra Winger are married, each halfheartedly having affairs on the side (with Melora Walters and Aiden Gillen, respectively). They’ve made promises to their secret significant others that they’re on the verge of finally coming clean and breaking it off with the spouse. But when their son announces he’s coming to visit with his girlfriend for the weekend, it jams up the works. The big moment will have to wait, but they swear it’ll be soon.
Visually, it works, and is even beautiful at times, with a few key shots early on giving us more insight into these characters than the clunky dialogue will hope to achieve. And the score, again, is gorgeous, incorporating bits of Tchaikovsky to create an overall fairy tale-like quality. But it’s never made clear what purpose the music is meant to serve, as the cues are kind of all over the place. We learn that the couple were failed musicians, and each is seeing an artist (a dancer and a writer), but none of it ever really hangs together, and we’re left with the feeling that there was some deeper theme that missed the translation from page to screen. Again, something is missing.
On its own, the film works as a portrait of manipulative, gaslighting older men who want what they want, and if that means the women around them suffer a little longer, well, so be it. With Letts playing a wishy-washy nerd and Gillen playing a more domineering (if seemingly sweet) wannabe alpha male, it seems like slim pickings for the ladies in this world. Even the son has rage issues and a girlfriend seemingly tailor-made to put up with him for the long haul.
This is without even mentioning the twist (revealed in trailers) that has Letts and Winger seeing each other “on the side,” effectively cheating on the people they’re cheating with. This isn’t a bad idea, but with at least one important moment toward the end left off-screen, we don’t get a lot of insight as to why this would even happen. But the cast is game, doing their best with a simple, sloppy script, and it was nice seeing these actors, all of whom I love, each getting something to do, even if Walters seems forever cursed with Hysterical Woman roles. Rated R for sexuality and language. Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Fine Arts Theatre.