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Tara Fass, LMFT
Tara Fass, LMFT Licensed Psychotherapist in Los Angeles
over 2 years Story
‘The Lovers:’ The Glory and the Groaning Pina Colada Romcom Starring the Ebullient Debra Winger

Once again we turn to the cinematic mirror to see what we can learn and use for living, particularly in this age of Grey Divorce’s rising tide. That said, nothing written here should be construed as advice or as a substitute for therapy. This film opened in May and is still playing in theaters which is no small feat in the world of independent film today.  It should not be missed, like another sleeper hit of the season, Eleanor Coppola's new film Paris Can Wait.

What's going on here is these films hit a familiar nerve of the challenges of 'Grey Romance,' an emerging genre willing to break the mold in portraying the joys and challenges of mature rather than predominantly young ardor.  The ascent in the descent, the glory and groaning of midlife love.  This is love the long way around, the song Pina Colada as a romcom.  

The Lovers should be mandatory viewing for any silver fox or cougar contemplating an affair or in one.  For the outsider paramours who want more from their married lovers, this film might be painful and informative. The marrieds are shaken to their roots by middle life reassessments and realignments. Rather than turning to each other for comfort, our marrieds turn to other tormented souls.


Debra Winger and Tracy Letts play cheating middle aged spouses on the way back to each other.

The cheaters look for their younger idealized self in another person, rather than awaken in themselves talents which lie dormant or repressed. In order to get on with the business of life, what I call the “Heavy Lifting Years,” it is common to let go of soul nourishing hobbies and pursuits because of the inability to earn a reasonable living as a cultural creative. Time and energy may return in the quieter “Empty Nest Years,” but our protagonists must learn this for themselves. 

Instead, their son Tyler Ross, who is attempting to molt his idealistic adolescent self and launch into young adulthood becomes embroiled in his parents’ trail of tears. The next generation must fend for themselves to sort out their own love lives and messy pathways to meaningful careers without the best role models.


Jessica Sula and Tyler Ross are tugged about in this delicious romcom about middle essence transformation.

Interesting, the son’s beloved Jessica Sula is post-racial. The one snapshot of her welcoming and stable family could be developed more. For the purpose of this film, Sula’s family is ‘whitewashed,’ but the message may be that Tracy Letts who plays Winger’s husband may be under the false assumption they can afford to take risks as a consequence of white privilege.

No matter how much Plan B is told the marriage is dead and has no pulse, chances are this is not true. Watch how rich the spousal interactions become when the marrieds fight with their mistresses/gigolos. If you are the Other, the interloper, spouses have each other at the end of the day. There is that dating question, “Does anyone else not consider you free.” Friend and astute observer of storytelling tropes, songwriter, Annie Roboff called Debra Winger’s new winner a Rupert Holmes (1979) Pina Colada romcom.

Never underestimate the stability of a long term marriage. The couple’s cue to wake up and appreciate the shelter of each other is the aftermath of affairs. Perhaps this couple is trying on an open relationship, with many false starts which is telling. This couple may question themselves and each other, to learn they belong together. Think of a revolving door leaving Winger and Letts in the same place they began - perhaps wiser- returning to each other in a round about way.


Never underestimate the anchoring ties that bind in a family, especially in a long term marriage.

Debra Winger returns in her full, she who has been relatively absent from the screen both large and small. In ‘Lovers,’ Winger is radiant and natural, smoother than her guffawing co star played so well by Letts. From the son’s perspective, Letts has historically been the perp and Winger to be pitied. True or not, mother proves she has game too. No side liner, conventional or underestimated, Winger is a maverick when not distracted. She is regal, a woman in her fullness.

Winger and Letts are a couple, set in their ways, trapped and comfortable in the daily quotidiens of life under management. Something is missing, apparently, as they are both otherwise engaged. The irony of lying to their side hustles on the path to finding each other all over again is hilarious.


Same old same old, disengaged and silent, or redeemed? Winger and Letts, with wine on the couch watching an old movie they have seen before with new eyes and gifts of vision.

Esther Perel’s, ‘Mating in Capitivity,: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence,’ a New York Times best seller posits that an affair for a long term marriage may be the best antidote for reviving a sedentary un-fun, taken for granted, forlorn marriage choking on the fumes of its former glory, if handled well. Harriet Lerner of “Dance of Anger” fame writes in her new book about how to apologize would be the sequel to this film based on her new book, Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts.

The experimental idealistic self needs to be revitalized especially in middle age. There must be other ways to grow and reclaim suppressed parts of self than to seek out sex with a new partner. How ironic to use the excuse of hard work to slip out and rebel. As Leonard Cohen sang in Hallelujah, “ I couldn’t see, so I had to touch.”

The cautionary tale to long term lovers is to keep courting, finding things to look forward to, as opposed to dreading. This could be simple as giving each other compliments, turning on music and dancing in the kitchen. This is what new lovers do.


Tracy Letts and Melora Walters dancing in the street as new lovers do.

When lovers stop courting they invite third parties. Guilt turns up as incipient hostility displayed in flashes of anger. The danger is being caught in flagrante, creates a sense of walking on egg shells. The high alert of frustration, stewing without substantial changes, tensions builds until the orgasmic release of tension is foreplay for make-up sex.

Though there are Letts’ sly smirks there are equally well-delivered grimaces. Flirting with disaster versus no glamour in noticing the need to replace the toothpaste with the bathroom faucet running to drown out the tap-tap of illicit texting is a zero sum game. Our protagonists are delightfully unreflective, or only hint at moments of self awareness when they are particularly disregulated.

We meet this couple at an interesting pressure point. Both spouses have lovers who demand a deeper commitment. The timing must be specific for the unfolding to work. The hitched protest they ‘can’t’ leave, or is it they ‘won’t.’ Defiance keeps the thread of the marriage going. Ironic, husband begs for his mistress not to be dramatic.

Melora Walters is a ballet teacher, a hint of Glenn Close and Sharon Stone, in her boil the cat state of mind. A little of this drama goes a long way to feel foolish. Though she may be out of control, she shows how dangerous it is to play with people. Creepy idolatry or welcome adoration, she has a larger than life portrait of him in her dining room as though she might eat him up alive. She is triggered and not holding back or for long. Her boiling point is the default emotional setting for the affair she displays so well as a resting distraught face.


Melora Walters as the scorned lover clearly should not be messed with.

Walters calls Letts a ‘coward,” and she is right. Her idea of confrontation is destructive or is it constructive? She provokes another level of truth telling, clearly hard to stomach. What’s the old saying? Whatever you spout off about someone else is likely something you struggle with. In other words, it takes one to know one.

Winger’s character is marginally more put together. Her work mate played so well by Lesley Fera is onto what these ‘client’ lunches and meetings are really about. Both Winger and Lett’s are cracking under the hypocritical nature of the deceit. They are both late to work, tired, distracted, in need of EAP sessions. The paramours are also hot messes.


Lesley Fera is onto Debra Winger who is in mortal fear of being caught

Much energy is expended for the married ones to serve and lie to two masters. No wonder are sullied heroes exhausted. Winger, studied the cheater, or so the son thinks so. On the receiving end she learned well from her husband. Is it pay back time or did Winger allow Letts to think he was the guilty one? Does Winger use this knowledge to cover her own affairs. We are not told. All we know is the marrieds return to each other despite the outs they have created for each other, the long way around.


On dates with their lovers, lying to each other via text messages about having to work late is heart warming and cringe worthy.

Are the affairs worth the energy for snippets of stolen pleasure? After viewing the film we discussed it over Happy Hour at Nava, a restaurant at SoHo House West Hollywood with a member eager to discuss the film afterwards. I experienced humor whereas all he saw was pain. He called the paramours borderline which I reminded him goes hand in hand with narcissism as Joan Lachskar, wrote about in, “The V-Spot: Healing Your Vulnerable Spot from Emotional Abuse.” Insecurities, amplified in the interaction, returns focus to the couple who is brought back to life by conflict.

Triggered equals feeling more alive. Affairs could be seen as disruptive technology for our couple in their redemptive/reconciliation phase. This couple is compelling, their chemistry palpable even as they are stable in their dysfunction and function. Why are they so ungrateful for what they have?

Home became so sanitized and predictable without the artistic soul in play, home represents deadness. The disclaimed repressed talents are about self expression and not about earning a living which our protagonists do well. Winger’s guy Aidan Gillen resembles a younger tortured Richard Gere figuring out how to earn his daily bread and who knows may think of Winger as his meal ticket. She falls asleep while he is reading out loud from his fresh out of writer’s block new missive after a night of torrid sex with Letts. When poked awake, on Winger’s lips is something mumbled, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”


Gillan’s writer’s block is relieved when he thinks Winger, his wealthier married girlfriend, is getting closer to divorcing her husband.

Predictable, or life-like, are our protagonists stuck or rooted? ‘Lovers’ takes a few unsuspecting turns. At one point are they spring cleaning or conscious uncoupling, not fighting as they divide their household goods. Are they donating furnishings to their paramours, shedding an old life, shoring up the manifestation of their younger selves in the crash pad apartments of their lovers starting fresh.


At the meat market shopping for a family dinner the same old becomes new again.

Either way the couple is hot for each other. We all know the good times can not go on forever, or can they? Not all bad news is all bad. This may be one of the enigmatic lessons of this entertaining and compelling film.

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Tara Fass, LMFT
Licensed Psychotherapist in Los Angeles

Tara Fass, LMFT #35078, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, California. She treats adults and couples dealing with a broad range of issues from navigating the legacy of divorce in one's life, to the quarter life crisis and conscious aging. Together we attempt to make meaning [...]

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