A comedy, and also a tragedy, of remarriage -- without couples counseling or divorce -- writer-director Azazel Jacobs's The Lovers revitalizes its genre with a piquant premise: What happens when long-wedded spouses, each with a romantic partner outside their dormant dyad, find the spark reignited -- a combustion that results in their carrying out an "adulterous" affair, two-timing the same people they've been cheating with? There are no grand pronouncements in The Lovers, which smartly communicates its ideas about relationships during its long stretches of silence. Jacobs lets casually observed details and offhand humor advance the story.
The Lovers pays close attention to the spatial (and emotional) chasms separating its constellation of couples, evidenced in the softly shattering opening scene. A woman is sobbing on a bed; she is Lucy (Melora Walters), the girlfriend of married Michael (Tracy Letts), who stands several feet away, looking at her with slight contempt. "Please don't cry, Lucy," are his only words of consolation, laced with the resentment of a man weary of reassuring a woman whose misery he is at least half-responsible for.
At the home in Santa Clarita, California, that Michael shares with his wife, Mary (Debra Winger), conversation involves little more than errand reminders. Mary sneaks away as often as she can to be with Robert (Aidan Gillen), a writer whose bedroom serves as a pitiful shrine to himself, the walls adorned with taped-up newspaper mentions.
What matters in The Lovers, and what all of the central cast, especially Letts and Winger, so meticulously inhabit, is the unstable present -- and the various fictions that these four dissembling adults are committed to manufacturing.