How it’s New York: The spotlight narrative film, The Lovers, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
How it’s Irish: Broadway playwright and actor Tracy Letts, of Irish descent, plays one of the leads (“Michael”). And Aiden Gillen (“Robert”) IS an Irish actor.
Azazel Jacobs, screenwriter, director, and producer of The Lovers, maintains that the film is a fond look back at screwball comedies. But this reviewer only had to take a look at his parents, who were seated in the audience and took an informal bow at the screening I attended, to figure out the real reason for this film: they have been married for a gazillion years, but there’s still a glowing “something” going on there for them. This film explores, among other things, middle-aged, long-term married “love” and what makes it tick. One might wonder how Jacobs could possibly keep such a theme interesting for 94 minutes much less how a couple could keep a marriage vital year after year.
But he does by creating a screwball comedy of a valentine with a unique meet-cute…in the middle of the film…in the middle of the marriage of a very jaded, benumbed couple. I give nothing away by saying that when the film begins, they are both having affairs and are trying to work up not so much the courage, but the enthusiasm to divorce. They are truly in deep freeze mode, and their amours are being slowly driven crazy. However, a “chance meeting” opens their eyes (No blatant spoilers here!) to a dormant spark, and the merry confusion that ensues is worthy of any Clark Gable/Collette Colbert crazy, mixed-up movie.[pullquote][Letts] is the most tender performer that I’ve ever met.[/pullquote]
It all works – except for a strange, severe reaction of their son played by Tyler Ross that feels like it belongs in another movie. Even the soothing of his girlfriend, played by the promising Jessica Sula, couldn’t help him or make his reaction any more cohesive with the film’s genre.
So who did Jacobs get for the leads? The excellent Debra Winger (“Mary”), a well-known screen star who Jacobs actually had in mind when he wrote the film. And Tracy Letts, a well-known veteran Broadway actor, in his first leading screen role. [pullquote]If [the young actors] were looking at me [as an inspiration], I was too busy looking at Debra that way.[/pullquote]All of the actors are good, but Letts leads the pack – literally. His energy and vitality as the reignited Romeo is nothing short of miraculous, and he becomes the driving force in the film. It is a delight, watching Letts become this eager lover wanting to please (Jacobs said that Letts is “the most tender performer that I’ve ever met.”) and ever-hopeful of the lustful returns.
So, what of Letts’ debut as a leading man on the big screen opposite Winger? During a red-carpet interview, he excitedly shared about it. “In film, I’d never been asked to do anything like this before And I jumped at the chance because the script was good, and to get a chance to work with Debra: it was just an amazing opportunity. Responsibilities when you’re a lead in a film are a little different, some different boxes you need to check, but it was great. And you’re too tired and have to move on to the next thing too quickly to get too worked up about it. You just keep on going.” Well, it really isn’t too presumptuous to say that I bet he’s checked everyone’s boxes with his performance – and was damned sexy doing it! As for the younger members of the cast looking to him and Winger for inspiration, he joked modestly, “If they were looking at me that way, I was too busy looking at Debra that way.”
Of course, I took that opportunity to ask Letts [pullquote]…[his] Irishness has certainly contributed to [his] dark moods and Sumerian temperment.[/pullquote]the question that our New York Irish Arts readership is dying to know: how do you feel that your Irishness contributes to this role and/or to your talent? This winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play August: Osage County and Tony Award-winner for his portrayal of George in the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf offered that “[his] Irishness has certainly contributed to [his] dark moods and sumerian temperment.” When I asked about Irish lyricism and fun, he thought that he’d need to get some. I left the interview confused, but then the film began with music that would have been at home in a Wagnerian opera, and at a frantic, antic pace that certainly looked as though Letts was having fun in a very lyrical film. So I went home and looked up “Sumerian temperment” (After all, a playwright like Letts has lots of far-flung references at his fingertips and descriptive bon mots to draw on.), which led me to discover that Sumerian kings preferred piety over heroism. Dark-mooded piety? Really? If that’s true, then sometimes he really Letts himself go! And are we Irish – and audiences at large – ever lucky!