The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s review of “The Lovers,” click here.
Mary and Michael’s separate phones have led to mostly separate lives.
“The Lovers,” out today, takes a clear-eyed look at what a modern, long-term marriage might look like. Mary and Michael’s (Debra Winger and Tracy Letts) son has left for college, and they’ve filled the void he left by working late and texting their respective bits on the side.
Director and writer Azazel Jacobs presents Mary and Michael’s marriage with neither compassion nor judgment. It just is what it is. And it’s easy to imagine how they got where they are: The stress and mundanity that is packing lunches and driving to soccer practice and getting to work and running the dishwasher and seriously, am I the only one around here who knows how to use a vacuum? meant their marriage slowly became about surviving life, not living it.
Their situation is nothing special on screen: Long-term movie marriages are often loveless, sexless trudges toward the nursing home.
But then. He comes home one night; she’s watching TV and drinking wine. There is a halting conversation. He asks about her wine. “Do … do you want some?” she asks. He pauses, then says he does. He gets a glass. They watch TV together.
The next morning, seemingly out of nowhere, they have sex. Then they start having a lot of sex (like, a LOT). They have enthusiastic, passionate, loud sex (like, REALLY loud). And Jacobs shows it all — explicitly — with the same objectivity he applied to their dead marriage. Which is, to say the least, surprising.
People in the movies who are over, say, 50 (Winger is nearly 62 and Letts is 10 years younger, which makes their coupling even RARER) have very specific roles to fill. They are kooky moms and stodgy dads, satellites of the young stars at the center of the movie universe. They are not, with very few exceptions, sexual — and if they are, it’s played for laughs. Jacobs shows what a sexual relationship looks like when, as the saying goes, there’s snow on the roof but a fire inside.
“The Lovers” also really nails (heh) how good sex can be because you’re in a long-term relationship, not in spite of it. When Mary and Michael reconnect, they do so easily because they’re already connected: He knows the spot on her neck she likes kissed and she knows not to mess with his ears. “The Lovers” is partly a celebration of what happens to sex when you can stop worrying about holding your stomach in.
So, if you see yourself and your partner in Mary and Michael, lay down the phone, put on a nice shirt and see “The Lovers.” It’s a good date night movie — particularly for couples who have forgotten to keep dating.