Adultery leads to odd pairings in The Lovers

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      Starring Debra Winger. Rated 14A

      The paramours referred to in the title are ostensibly the sideshow partners of bland suburbanites Mary and Michael, played by Debra Winger and Tracy Letts (a theatre veteran who stood out in last year’s Indignation). But the real stars of the show are their smartphones, which must be lovingly attended if their joyless cheating is to proceed apace.

      Ensconced in their huge tract home in the Caucasian foothills north of Los Angeles, the harried marrieds spend much of the short, oddly attenuated movie checking their devices to see what their other halves are up to. These alleged adults both have undefined, semicorporate jobs, but their real vocation is adultery. Tellingly, Michael has labelled as “Work” incoming calls from an aging dancer (Melora Walters) whose high-pitched demands are getting louder. Mary, meanwhile, keeps booking off time for nooners with a handsome, self-absorbed novelist of vaguely Irish origin. (Hard to tell, as Aidan Gillen’s accent keeps changing.)

      Writer-director Azazel Jacobs has terrific rapport with his actors, who supply some context missing from the script. His previous features, Momma’s Man (which starred his own, eccentric New York parents), the high school-set Terri, and the HBO series Doll & Em all took place in highly specific worlds. But here he moves into the Realm of Metaphor, and it’s never quite clear what these totems stand for, or how we’re supposed to feel about them. There’s no history to ground the marriage or to explain what their younger, more attractive partners see in these stiffs.

      Put simply, Michael and Mary seem comfortable being uncomfortable—that is, sharing a bed without making eye contact and comprehending each other’s affairs without ever confronting them. Perhaps they’re saving their energy for the almost daily rutting that is quite impressive for characters pushing 60. Anyway, this odd stasis is thrown off-balance by the arrival of their college-student son (Zombieland’s Tyler Ross) and his new girlfriend (Welsh-born Jessica Sula), which somehow drives them back together. This rom-com development comes too late in a tale that is neither romantic nor funny. And Jacobs seems more intent on judging his characters than exploring them. The cast works hard, but they still end up phoning it in.

      Watch the trailer for The Lovers.