Is it truly cheating if the one you're cheating with is the one you've been cheating on? Perhaps the best way to represent the conundrum occurs about 30 minutes into The Lovers, a sweet-tart cinematic confection that is certain to be catnip for, let's say, "mature" audiences.
At first, the scene looks like dozens of others found in romantic comedies: A well-past-middle age couple wakes up in bed, with faces inches from one another. Neither have opened their eyes yet, and the man leans in for a kiss as the woman responds lovingly.
"Good morning," he whispers.
"Hi," she whispers back.
When they open their eyes to discover they've awakened to their spouse, they leap from the sheets in horror. Doubtless, they've been sleeping in the same bed for decades, but a morning kiss? Not part of the routine. At least not with each other.
"What time is it?" the husband barks as he jolts to a sitting position on the edge of the bed.
"It's late," the wife mumbles, never making eye contact.
Better late than never for them and us.
One of the season's biggest surprises, The Lovers is smart, equal parts fruity and sour, and totally watchable—in large part due to its leads Tracy Letts (Divorce, Homeland) and Debra Winger, the firebrand 1980s actress who lit up the screen in Urban Cowboy, An Officer and a Gentleman and Terms of Endearment. Winger also famously stepped so far away from Hollywood she was the subject of a 2002 documentary, "Searching for Debra Winger." As for Letts, he's one of the best character actors in film today, won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for penning the play August: Osage County and is married to Carrie Coon (The Leftovers, Fargo), one of the hottest actresses working.
The plotline for The Lovers might read like a fizzy romantic comedy: A couple so out of love they refuse to undress in front of one another stays together for convenience. Both are in the throes of an affair, but begin cheating on their respective lovers with... each other. The dilemma raises the question: Is this cheating or a double deception?
Mary (Winger) and Michael (Letts) think they have become adept at covering the tracks in their affairs—hers with a budding writer (Aidan Gillen) and his with a ballet instructor (Melora Walters). In truth, they couldn't be more obvious with their philandering. Mary and Michael have grown so tired of one another, their emotional exhaustion has blurred their vision. When the couple wakes up—physically and emotionally—in an embrace one fine morning, they truly see each other as they haven't in years. What follows is some rekindled passion and wake-the-neighbors sex.
Life takes another turn, though, when Mary and Michael's son Joel (Tyler Ross) returns home from college for a weekend visit with his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula). Most of the memories Joel has of his parents aren't good ones, defined by years of bickering and lack of physical closeness. It makes some of the elements of The Lovers feel overly theatrical, not unlike a play Letts would write. Ultimately, the film is satisfying, but be warned: This movie may not deliver the ending you expect or even hope for. The Lovers, just like the messy business of love, will strum a bittersweet tune on your heartstrings.