Within the first five minutes of Azazel Jacob's amusing new film, Tracy Lett's character - Michael - reminded me of an old friend in a similar marriage. Michael's external lover Lucy (Melora Walters) is giving him a bunch of flack because he hasn't left his wife and isn't spending enough time with her.


Lucy is needy and placed herself as the alpha lover - in her mind - more important than Michael's wife. Every time they meet, Michael and Lucy have an argument that leaves him constantly placating her frustration; instead of just breaking up with her. Lucy is a ballet teacher with a stereotypical Prima Donna personality.


Michael's wife is Mary (played delightfully by Debra Winger) who is showing her age, but really is still a looker herself. So much so that she too has an external lover in Robert (Aidan Gillen) a decidedly younger man. (Yes actually everyone is younger than Winger, but she effortlessly plays a 50-something well). Mary and Michael don't have to work too hard to disguise their external romances because their marriage has deteriorated to a few disconnected utterances and hardly any thought of each other.

When they do actually speak to each other, they are awkward and clumsy - as if they were complete strangers who just happen to be sharing a home...and a bed. Yes, the do sleep in the same bed unlike my buddy who generally sleeps in the basement.


They have decided to end their charade of a marriage when they college aged son comes to visit with hie girlfriend. Joel (Tyler Ross) only knows they hate each other and is basically bringing his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) to she her what and awful marriage looks like. Boy are they in for a surprise.


Because one morning, quite by accident, Michael and Mary roll over to face each other in bed and share a kiss. Hmm, not bad. The next night, they decide to have sex and what do you know, they like it. They don't necessarily like it because they found new love for each other; it apparently is merely much more convenient than having to deal with their pesky affairs.


It is a case where the one-time oasis of extramarital relations devolves into being a pain in the ass and the best recourse is to return to the bosom of ones spouse. Now the tide has turned and Michael and Mary are cheating on their extramarital lovers... with they son coming in with his girlfriend. How will they make things look even remotely normal?


Winger has a legacy of playing plucky defiant gals with "Officer and a Gentleman", "Terms of Endearment", "Black Widow", "Urban Cowboy" and of course "Forget Paris". She plays a totally subdued character with a kernel of pluck while Letts is the "big lug" who is so spineless you wonder how he managed to score with women at all. Gillen and Walters play two characters who you'd like to see meeting each other so they could have a battle of insecurity. They are all perfect for their roles. The weakest links are Ross and Sula, but it's easy to overlook them.


The best part of the story is that Azazel doesn't settle for an automatic happily ever after ending. There are certain realities that must be realized.


"The Lovers" is a terrific examination of mundanity of marriage getting a second life as the convenience of marriage. Deborah Winger and Tracy Letts add humor and realism to believable characters.   -- GEOFF BURTON