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The Lovers

I’ve said — and I’ve said it a million times — that there are no bad stories, only bad storytellers. The Lovers may have finally proven me wrong on that.

Our premise is centered around the married couple of Mary and Michael, respectively played by Debra Winger and Tracy Letts. The passion has long since gone from their marriage, so Mary starts having an affair with Robert (Aiden Gillen) while Michael takes Lucy (Melora Walters) as his mistress. So Mary and Michael have no idea that they’re cheating on each other, while Lucy and Robert demand that they just break the news and call off the marriage already.

But before that can happen, Mary and Michael start inexplicably falling back in love with each other. By this point, Lucy and Robert have gotten so possessive and invested in their respective love affairs that they feel like the ones being cheated on. Thus Mary and Michael are forced to choose whether they’ll come clean and who they’ll ultimately stay with.

 

So much bullshit here, it’s hard to know where to start.

First of all, I’m aware that polyamory is very much a thing. I know that there are legitimate arguments to be made against our long-established custom of two people together, until death do they part, especially when people on average are living longer and longer. That said, the centerpiece of any relationship — polyamorous or otherwise — is trust. Communication is imperative for setting up boundaries, obtaining consent, and making promises. Breaking those promises is a horrible transgression, ditto for those who claim someone already promised to another.

It doesn’t excuse their actions that Mary and Michael are cheating on each other. If anything, it makes them look like hypocritical bastards. And it doesn’t excuse their actions that Mary and Michael eventually get back together, since it doesn’t mean shit while they keep seeing their respective lovers on the side. Plus, given how these two go back and forth between their respective lovers, it’s a sure thing that they’ll never be happy no matter how this ends or who they end up with. Thus is the whole story made pointless.

Come to that, why would these people even want to be with each other? Lucy is repeatedly shown to be the worst kind of jealous paranoid bitch, and Robert’s no less a possessive dickbag. Michael is a broken-down wreck of a man, and Mary lets herself get pulled apart going in so many different directions at once. I have absolutely no idea what any of these characters could possibly see in each other… yet the chemistry is somehow still undeniably there.

The cast is brilliant, no doubt about that. Winger and Letts are especially magnetic, somehow conveying massive lengths of conversation without a single word spoken. What’s probably even more impressive is how the characters are both such transparent and pathetic liars that it somehow comes back around to being adorable. The effect is like that of a child putting on his most angelic smile while surrounded by the pieces of whatever he just broke — however cute, it doesn’t make the culprit any less guilty. And of course Gillen and Walters are no slouches either, both seasoned character actors whose experience is on full display here.

But the real unsung hero of the cast is Tyler Ross, here playing Mary and Michael’s son. Joel’s arrival greatly raises the stakes, which is something this movie sorely needed. As the great adulterer Jimmy McNulty once said, “Lying to your wife is easy. Lying to your kids, that’s the hard part.”

(Side note: Given how many alumni that show had — Gillen among the rest — it seems like everything comes back to “The Wire” somehow.)

The movie very desperately needed someone like Joel who could call the main characters out on their bullshit. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come until the climax and our characters learn fuck-all as a direct result, so nothing really comes of it. Like I said before: Given how the characters cheated on each other only to cheat on their affairs, there was never any way this story was going to end in a satisfactory way. They were cheaters before this movie, and they’re probably going to be cheaters afterward no matter what happens.

Moreover, all of these characters are living in perfectly nice homes and holding down good jobs, with no apparent problems that anyone can see. The only problem here is that Mary and Michael are getting older and bored with each other. Well, tough shit. That happens to everyone and there are more productive ways of dealing with it.

For comparison’s sake, Amour (2012) was a film about a married couple dealing with dementia. 5 to 7 was a story about a married couple that knowingly experimented with polyamory, discovering how it works and how it fails. 45 Years featured a long-lost love whose corpse had been recently found. But here, all we’ve got are rich old white people who complain and make their own trouble for no better reason than because they’re bored. I’m sorry, but I find it very hard to sympathize with that. Please, give me something more to go on.

On a technical level, the film wants for nothing. The shots are beautifully framed, with especially good use of shadows. The score is also quite impressive, nicely minimalist in a way that helps to convey the emotions at play.

The Lovers is wonderful on a technical level and the cast is top-notch, but it’s all in service of a story that’s rotten to the core. None of the characters are worth a damn and they don’t change in any kind of meaningful way, except to realize what shitstains they are and do precisely nothing about it.

This one is absolutely not recommended.

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