The Lovers, a new drama from director Azazel Jacobs (Terri), focuses on both the strains and the swoons of married life. Fifty-something couple Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) has lost the spark of their earlier years. They hardly speak to each other or spend time together; instead, the two have pursued other relationships. She has fallen for a novelist named Robert (Aidan Gillen), and he is with Lucy (Melora Walters), a dance teacher. However, before either Mary or Michael can exclaim they are leaving each other, a spontaneous romance suddenly seizes them.

The latest release by indie film darlings A24 is a gem in the middle of a hectic blockbuster movie season: a drama about adults, for adults. In his first leading role, playwright Tracy Letts is terrific, benefitting from careful comic timing. In a scene when Michael sits in his sedan, lying over the phone to both his wife and new girlfriend, he gives each fib just the right air of phony confidence. (It is an achingly funny one-man-show of sorts, played out in an empty parking lot.) Debra Winger, while more inscrutable than her co-star, beautifully expresses the confusion and anxiety in her face as she decides how to behave and what to feel with both men in her life.

The Lovers is not just superbly acted, but bolstered by fine direction. Jacobs swiftly transitions between swelling strings (characteristic of classic 1940s and 1950s melodramas) and thick silences. Letts, Winger, and Jacobs let the quieter moments linger, giving each character a space to decide how to react to each character quirk or plot progression. Similar to its score, the film finds a balance between repressed and uninhibited sexuality. Befitting its title, The Lovers is not shy about showing the cravings of its protagonists.

Although the film only relies on a few settings and contains a small ensemble, Jacobs employs close-ups and parallel staging between settings to enliven what could have felt more like a play. Nevertheless, this observant character study loses some of its subtle charm in the final third, when Mary and Michael’s college-age son, Joel (Tyler Ross), returns home with his girlfriend (Jessica Sula). The embarrassed Joel acts more like a plot device to endanger the blooming sexual energy in the household. Some of his actions (like punching a wall) and dialogue exchanges grate against the wit and warmth of earlier scenes. As an actor, Ross clearly doesn’t possess the same genes of talent as Winger or Letts. Despite the histrionic, weakly plotted final half-hour, the main actors are always absorbing to watch.

Is The Lovers opening weekend worthy?

Yes. Aside from a creaky final act, The Lovers is an often-exceptional actors’ showcase. They bolster what could have been a routine glimpse of middle-age malaise and desire into something darkly funny and quietly affecting.

The Lovers opens Friday, May 19, 2017 at Cineplex Varsity Cinema. Check their website for more information.

The Lovers Trailer