The premise of The Lovers may sound too neat for its own good. A middle-aged married couple, seemingly sick of each other and embroiled in their own long-running affairs, find themselves at home at the same time one evening—an event they strive to avoid at all costs. They retreat to bed, falling asleep turned away from one other, but wake up in each other’s arms, an accident that drives the movie’s plot. For the first time in what seems like years, they’ve noticed one other and embark on a new affair—together.
The Lovers, written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, is a strangely gripping movie mostly because of its aversion to over-explaining. Over its 95-minute running time, viewers barely get any context about the central couple, Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts). They live in a suburb, work dull office jobs that they use to lamely cover for their infidelity, and have a grown son from whom they seem vaguely estranged. The movie doesn’t spell out why Mary and Michael drifted apart, but even more arrestingly, it doesn’t offer a reason for why they’re drifting back together again.
That opaqueness helps drive The Lovers through its slow start, as it lays out the basic parameters of Mary’s relationship with Robert (Aidan Gillen), a frustrated writer, and Michael’s with Lucy (Melora Walters), a more outwardly volatile ballet teacher. There’s a drudgery even to these exciting affairs, as both Mary and Michael are being pushed to leave their marriage and make their new relationships official. But whatever deeper desires the two might be nursing, Jacobs isn’t interested in exploring them.