BFI London Film Festival: The Lovers

The Lovers
The Lovers
Directed by Azazel Jacobs
Starring Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen and Melora Walters
Screening at LFF October 13th, 14th, 15th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

With a witty script and wonderful performances, The Lovers is a sharply observed film about love and relationships. Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star as Mary and Michael, a couple who have been married for decades and have fallen out of love with each other to the point of finding each other’s company awkward. Each are having their own affair with a younger lover, and each plan to end the marriage after a visit from their son. But, as there is clearly something attractive in the forbidden, their icy temperaments to each other begin to thaw and their relationship is passionately rekindled before it’s over.

There is a raw honesty to The Lovers – years of monogamy can often lead to existential crises and extramarital affairs. The fact that they find their new companions more alluring than their partners is not a new concept. The awkwardness between Mary and Michael is so painful that it’s impossible not to squirm in your seat while watching their interactions. Their relationship has been reduced to a routine of housework and polite exchanges, when one night they both unexpectedly find themselves at home togther, and out of obligation share a bottle of wine. The build up of tension is broken by the hilarity of their uncomfortable interaction. They are so stunted with each other, they feel like strangers. And perhaps that is part of the appeal in their rekindled mutual attraction.

This is a very meaty role for Debra Winger who has been mostly absent from the big screen since her heyday – this being her first lead role in over two decades. It showcases her immense talent, but also provides cinema with a much overlooked character – a respectful portrayal of a woman in her early 60’s who is complex and has sexual desires. Her chemistry with costar Tracy Letts is wonderful and joyous in scenes both of pathos and hilarity.

While the script and performances cleverly portray the nuances of Mary and Michael’s relationship and damaged psyches, the music score overtly detracts from the subtlety and enjoyment of this story. Layered across the entire film, the score would feel more at home in a 1950’s Walt Disney film, orchestral swells and harp glissandos included. It’s so misjudged that it angers – how could such a smart film be so stupid? It’s like taking a perfectly baked cake and then icing it with something inedibly sweet. The film is almost ruined by the horribly intrusive and inappropriate score.

Luckily the script and acting are as wonderful as they are, otherwise the score would leave nothing to salvage. Watching Mary and Michael journey into old familiar territory is an insightful and genuine delight.


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