Strange bedfellows

Mar­riage and mid­dle age not the end of sex


The Lovers is a frank, play­ful ro­man­tic drama about a cou­ple, Mary and Michael (De­bra Winger and Tracy Letts), who are sep­a­rately on the verge of leav­ing the other for their re­spec­tive lovers. Mary and Michael are the sort of ap­a­thetic mid­dle-aged cou­ple whose ne­glect for each other has eroded their re­la­tion­ship, each hav­ing found a re­newed de­sire in their slightly younger and need­ier lovers. The cou­ple may still sleep in the same bed, but their only com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­cerns chores like buy­ing tooth­paste and their col­lege-aged son Joel (Tyler Ross), who is com­ing home for a visit.

The film de­lights in show­ing us the comed­i­cally near-mir­rored ex­pe­ri­ences of the two as they pur­sue their af­fairs. As it turns out, both are plan­ning to leave each other af­ter Joel’s visit. Lucy (Melora Wa­ters), Michael’s anx­ious bal­let teacher girl­friend, and Robert (Ai­dan Gillen), Mary’s brood­ing, cig­a­rette-smok­ing nov­el­ist, are down­right petu­lant and im­pa­tient about fi­nally hav­ing their lovers all to them­selves, act­ing like sur­ro­gate chil­dren rather than adults. In re­veal­ing their in­se­cu­ri­ties about the mat­ter, they ul­ti­mately force both Michael and Mary to re­quire some much-needed space from their af­fairs for fur­ther re­flec­tion.

That space ends up putting them right back where they started — in the house that they sleep in, yet rarely live in to­gether — and the emo­tional bur­den of their se­cret lives ends up bring­ing them back to­gether. There’s noth­ing quite like emo­tional need­i­ness to fuel sex­ual de­sire. And so, soon enough, hus­band and wife are in bed hav­ing wild, steamy sex, with the most sur­prised, con­fused looks on their faces, as if it’s a dirty vice in­stead of the most sanc­ti­fied act in the world.

The Lovers has the self-aware­ness to de­light in the con­tra­dic­tions of the cou­ple’s dilemma — it nei­ther con­firms that Mary and Michael are aware of each other’s af­fairs, for ex­am­ple, nor does it deny it ei­ther. In­stead, Winger and Letts play their char­ac­ters as en­tirely self-ab­sorbed in­di­vid­u­als; so wrapped up in their love­mak­ing they only oc­ca­sion­ally re­mem­ber that they hold down jobs or that they’re in a mar­riage at all.

The con­clu­sion re­it­er­ates the movie’s cen­tral the­sis: love will be­come stag­nant if you don’t learn how to put in the emo­tional work.

In The Lovers, De­bra Winger and Tracy Letts play a self­ish mar­ried cou­ple who are en­gaged in in­di­vid­ual af­fairs.

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