Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star as an unhappily married couple in downbeat tale about modern love

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Mary and Michael are married to one another, and they’re both cheating behind the other’s back.

That’s the jumping off point for “The Lovers,” a sharp, pointed look at modern marriage and our psychological impulse toward self-destruction.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have been married for years and have raised an adult son, who is planning an upcoming visit. But the love in their marriage dissipated long ago, replaced with an unspoken, seething hatred of one another. Both have pegged the end of their son’s visit as the end of their marriage, when they will finally admit the truth to the other and go off with their respective loves: Mary is seeing Robert (Aidan Gillen), a guilt-racked author type, and Michael is paired with Lucy (Melora Walters), a children’s ballet teacher.

As the lies between them pile up, complacency begins to set in within their affairs. They’ve replaced one dead relationship with another. Then an unexpected spark ignites between them, and they stumble on a radical idea: they begin cheating on their lovers with each other, which is sort of like the snake swallowing its own tail.

“The Lovers” is written and directed by Azazel Jacobs, who made 2011’s “Terri,” another offbeat look at downbeat types navigating modern life. That one took place in high school, and here he captures the sad, suffocating state of domestic discord and characters who are so addicted to losing that they don’t even remember how to win.

“The Lovers” keeps folding, changing and evolving, but stays to its central theme, exploring two uncomfortably real characters who can’t get out of the way of each other or themselves.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘The Lovers’

GRADE: B+

Rated R for sexuality and language

Running time: 94 minutes

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