Monday, May 29, 2017

Chemistry of Romance

I'm as contrary as the next woman, but I couldn't quite figure out who to root for at first.

When it's a story about a middle-aged couple bored with each other after 30 years of marriage, it's only natural to want to see them each end up with their younger lovers, right? Why keep plodding through a relationship that's grown tepid when you can start fresh with someone new who doesn't know you as well...yet?

Because why wouldn't I cap off a Memorial Day afternoon eating crabs by myself in the back yard with a movie that takes an unabashed look at screwed up grown-up relationships by acknowledging that romance and sexual attraction continue unabated into middle age?

Don't answer that.

Anyway, I had every reason to go because "The Lovers" was directed squarely at adults, an authentic comedy that was played for the familiar notes of reality rather than easy laughs. That it starred a 62-year old Debra Winger as Mary and Broadway actor/playwright Tracy Letts as Michael turned it into the most fascinating kind of character study.

Watching the two of them go from happily unfaithful (Michael tells his girlfriend, "I was just tired of all the bullshit" about why he strays) to re-finding their attraction for each other amounted to a master class in acting, especially watching cold-hearted Mary melt with the attention and PDAs of her real love.

And once that happened, watching how much passed between them without words was as romantic as having poetry read to you (or written about you).

Almost immediately, they're cheating on their paramours with their spouses, an absurdist premise if there ever was one. But it also oozed romance because they're not just lusting after each other, they're firmly back in love with each other, or at least acknowledging that the love never really left, it was just buried under duty, routine and ennui.

Even Michael's girlfriend notices a difference, telling him, "You're so light and cheerful and nice! I love when you're like this!"

Needless to say, he didn't admit what had put the spring back in his step.

One of the sweetest scenes involved Michael sitting down at the piano after decades of avoiding it to play and sing (not particularly well, but that wasn't the point) a Madness song to Mary.

I never thought I'd miss you
Half as much as I do
And I never thought I'd feel this way
The way I feel about you
As soon as I wake up
Every night, every day
I know that it's you I need
To take the blues away
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Nothing more, nothing less
Love is the best

How often does a film tackle the nitty gritty of middle-age relationships - why we plan to leave someone we love, what makes us choose to stay and what urges lead us in both directions - and deliver a classic '80s ska song?

Spoiler alert: I rooted for Mary and Michael, not the lovers. It must be was clearly love.

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