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PostPosted: Fri May 19, 2017 2:29 pm 
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DEBRA WINGER AND TRACY LETTS IN THE LOVERS

Azazel Jacobs' deliberately messy rom-com hovers between mates and between genres

The Lovers, this version, no doubt is meant to be messy, but was it intended to be so confusing? Despite a good cast and potentially juicy material, this movie leaves one unsatisfied, an interesting failure perhaps, but not a success.

We meet a longtime couple, Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts), who are both seriously messing around. We don't know for how long, but long enough for both Mary's lover Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Michael's lover Lucy (Melora Walters) to have come to the familiar crossroads: make up your mind, reveal your affair, give up your marriage, or it's over between us.

Under this pressure, unexpectedly, Mary and Michael suddenly wind up, for a while anyway, cheating on Robert and Lucy - with each other. That's funny, isn't it? Or is it heartwarming, a sign of how true love can last through thick and thin? Is the marriage coming back to life spurred by Michael and Mary's period of screwing around? Or is their new fun in bed with each other just one last ritual fling before they both split up for good?

Either way this seems a clever premise. And when you say "clever," and there's neat symmetry and an element of surprise and absurdity,you're talking farce. But perhaps this turnabout could be a basis for some deep emotional exploration and soul-searching. Again, the movie seems to be wavering between the two possibilities. Jaunty movie music to divide early scenes has suggested comedy. But the shuffling back and forth seems a bit of a drag. Their affair, along with their jobs, seems to be tiring Michael and Mary - the reason for their first sexy night back together.

If they're forced into agonizing, the action is getting poised to analyze deep feelings, tough decisions. But there's not much analysis, really. It's another case of "the heart has its reasons that the reason cannot know." Tracy Letts and Debra Winger seem a dream acting couple, the supporting cast also well chosen. But the material needed more shaping. They give us good moments. They can't give us a good film.

This is writer-director Azazel Jacobs' fifth feature , but having seen only the previous one, the rather particular portrait of an overweight boy Terri, I'm in no position to guess where his sensibilities lie. I can only say he falls between genre stools here. After a while the jaunty music, which seemed obtrusive anyway, fades away, except for a diegetic moment when Michael sings and plays the piano - a profoundly ambiguous moment, by the way. In this later section, a hole is punched in a wall, and you wouldn't be surprised at more violence. But all's fair in love and rom-coms, and you couldn't totally rule out a feel-good finale, either.

The trouble is that if you're not going to have the neat satisfactions of plot resolution that come with farce, then you need a deeper emotional payoff than The Lovers provides, even though the princiipals do get to go on the odd laughing or crying jag.

Jacobs' dialogue is admirably workmanlike and simple, a seamless peg on which to hang the acting and the emotions. That's the trouble, though: it's neutral, and hasn't been shaped. One feels that with judicious manipulation of scenes and outcomes, he could have delivered more good laughs and surprises. Or, alternately, something as shattering as Andrew Haigh's 45 Years, which this brings to mind.

Unfortunately a lot of the movie is just shuffling around, covering up. And that is not only familiar material of adultery drama, but not terribly interesting. The action is only kept alive by a coming crisis, an important visit by Michael and Mary's son Joel (Tyler Ross) and his serious new girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula). This is going to force the issue for some reason, though that seems rather arbitrary, as though Joel and Erin arrive to pump energy (and youth) into a sagging action. Sula and Ross are appealing. Ross,seeming overqualified for his minor role, effortlessly delivers tons of vulnerability. He gets a crying jag too, one whose role in the plot isn't wholly clear. Joel's behavior better fits a neurotic adolescent than a college student who's in a serious relationship and is a fantastic cook. Maybe if he were allowed to stick around longer he'd have provided more of the serious drama the movie seems to be aiming for.

Sorry, but this didn't work for me. It doesn't help that Robert (Gillen) and Lucy (Warren) are thinly sketched and Mary and Michael toil in interchangeable office cubicles at unspecified jobs. And needless to say, the Debra Winter who was the heart and soul of Bertolucci's Sheltering Sky and Tracy Letts who was a magnificent mean man very recently in Indignation and Christine not to mention writing such wonderful plays as Bug and August, Osage County are capable of much more than the generic treatment they get here.

The Lovers, 94 mins., debuted at Tribeca Apr. 2017, US theatrical release began 5 May. Screened at AMC Bay Street, Emeryville CA on opening day, 19 May. It's nice that this indie-flavored film from the shrewd A24 has global distribution by Sony coming. A24 also has the charming and even smaller Orthodox comedy Menashe (ND/NF 2017) coming to AMC theaters.

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