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.