It is surprising “The Lovers,” a new family drama starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, doesn’t use the Earth, Wind and Fire song “After the Love is Gone” as a theme song. The hit tune and the movie share a common question, “Can love that’s lost be found?”
Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) are an old married couple going through the motions of having a relationship. Both are having affairs, she with frustrated Irish novelist Robert (Aidan Gillen); him with unpredictable ballet teacher Lucy (Melora Walters). They are a couple on the verge of a break up, teetering dangerously close to divorce. There’s no acrimony, just disinterest, as they slowly grow apart.
It seems, as Earth, Wind and Fire might have sung on the soundtrack had the orchestra score been replaced with mid-70s smooth R&B, “What used to be right is wrong.” Then something remarkable happens. They find their old spark. But what to do about Robert and Lucy?
The set up sounds rom com-y, like a Garry Marshall film starring Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl but it’s not that. It’s quirkier, more complicated, richer largely due to Winger and Letts. Both are gifted actors, both bring believable emotional baggage to a couple on the search for satisfaction.
Complicating the already fraught situation is the arrival of the couple’s son Joel (Tyler Ross), and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula). The visit takes up the film’s final third and it is here where things go from understated to interesting. “They hate each other,” says Joel. “You gotta understand. I would love it if they left one another.” He uses them as an example of how not to live and asks Erin to punch him in the face if he ever starts behaving like them.
The true depth of their loveless dysfunction is revealed and it is here where the quiet desperation of their lives boils over. “It looks like you and mom are getting along,” says Joel. “Occasionally,” replies Michael.
“The Lovers” isn’t a flashy movie, like it’s suburbanite / cubicle setting it’s straightforward looking, but beneath the banal surface are bubbling, authentic emotions.