A poet falls in love with an art student who gravitates to his bohemian lifestyle -- and his love of heroin. Hooked as much on one another as they are on the drug, their relationship alternates between states of oblivion, self-destruction, and despair.
Leonard Kraditor is a burned-out case, living with his immigrant parents after his fiancée left him, helping out at their Brooklyn dry cleaners, taking photographs, at loose ends, suicidal. In quick succession, he meets two women: Sandra, the daughter of his parents' business associates, frank, direct, sensual, Jewish like Leonard; and, his neighbor Michelle, mercurial, rootless, fun, blond, unattainable. Michelle is in love with a married man and cries on Leonard's shoulder; Sandra wants to save him. Is Leonard willing to risk losing Sandra's fidelity for the moments Michelle's moods swing toward him? Can this end well? Written by
As this film began, I thought, "What have I gotten myself into?" Joaquin Phoenix playing a character, Leonard, who attempts suicide before the lights in the theater are down? This is going to be a long ride and my shoulders slumped into the seat. But, instead, this funny, romantic intensely felt film slowly takes control of the audience and we shake our heads both in recognition of the folly of the characters as well as the exactitude with which the actors hit each and every mark. I wanted to applaud at the end for (1) the sustained tone, and (2)that it wasn't the film I feared at the opening.
Isabella Rosellini, as Leonard's mother, quickly lightens up the mood. (I should say, The Great Isabella Rosellini.) She has little to say but communicates volumes as a doting mother of a very troubled son. But she's also very funny in her hovering (literally peering under her son's door to see if he's okay).
What triggers the action is the introduction of a girl Sandra (played by Vinessa Shaw) chosen by Leonard's parents to divert him from the heartbreak that has made him suicidal. She's a perfect choice, and we all nod, "This won't work," because she's exactly what Leonard needs. He's so caught up in his suffering that he can't see anything beyond that until supreme suffering simultaneously walks into his life: Her name is Michelle, and she's played by the exquisite Gwyneth Paltrow.
If you're a fan of Paltrow's, you know just how Leonard feels. He's ready to jump through any hoop just to be near Michelle, and wouldn't any of us? Paltrow gives such a winning performance of what none of us need and all of us want, that even by the end we want everything to revolve around her (as Michelle wants too).
This is not only a film about infatuation with various stages and maturity of love, it's also about a place, and that place is New York City. With wonderful and flakey choices on the soundtrack, New York is cupid's hell. From the excitement of a group of people off on a lark to a dance club to one of the most unusual first dates in a high brow Manhattan restaurant (lushly scored with Henry Mancini's "Lujon") each and every locale is a Valentine to how much trouble you can get into in the big city. Watch out for those Michelles! Beautifully filmed, masterfully directed, being released so soon after the Oscar awards, the only sad thing is that it wasn't released just a few months earlier.
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