Two Lovers (2008)
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James Gray hadn't really impressed me with his earlier films, for me they all lacked out on the intensity and became standard crime-thrillers. With his latest melodramatic romance, he really surprised me; he does a caring job directing the three performers, and he tells a strange and tender story. The music of the film is Jewish guitar-instrumentals that are carefully intertwined, but most of the film has got a blanket of quiet bleakness, and it's covering every little corner.
The performances of Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw are great, and although the two never share screen-space, director Gray naturally and carefully shifts between the two lives Leonard is living, and so the two of them add lovely pieces to the story. But it's in-between the double relationship the film and its protagonist is living, the film has to connect, and it couldn't have been done better than by Joaquin Phoenix. Leonard is a suicidal depressive that enters human-bounding and the give & receive of it, and this is a very difficult character to portray - but just look at Phoenix, he is phenomenal; the incredible naturalism of it shows Phoenix in the performance of his career.
The melancholy of the film doesn't make it for the dominant audience, but I've never even cared a bit for that, and it's a delight that romance on screen can be thrown upon like this. 'Two Lovers' is a small film with a heart that's full of rare atmosphere, the form of it is tearing and in center, a superb Joaquin Phoenix.
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.
A friend of Leonard's father, Michael Cohen (Bob Ari) has a small chain of dry cleaners Pop's going to merge with. Cohen has a daughter, Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), whom the parents have set up with Leonard. He's only a little interested. But he does take her into his little boy's bedroom to show her his black and white photographs of destroyed shopfronts. He's so needy, he welcomes any attention. Sandra is very interested in him. She finds him not odd, but special. And she has a sweetness about her than lingers in the mind.
But then another woman unexpectedly appears: a new neighbor, the blond and dangerous Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). Even at their first meeting in the hallway she's in trouble, being verbally abused by her visiting father, and in need of comfort and protection. And from then on whenever Michelle calls on Leonard, however bad the time or awkward the occasion, he can never say no. She's pretty, even glamorous, but also unhealthy. She's been on drugs. Leonard can see her window upstairs from his room, and she becomes a glittering object of desire, so near and yet so far. Because he wants her, but she thinks of him from the first as like a brother.
So there are the "two lovers"--Leonard's two women, Sandra, who knows his problems and wants to take care of him, and Michelle, who knows them and takes advantage to make him a comforting pillow in her troubles with Ronald (Elias Koteas), her married lawyer boyfriend. Michelle has Leonard come to a fancy restaurant to meet Ronald and size him up, tell her if he thinks Ronald will ever leave his wife. Instead, while Michelle's in the ladies' room, Ron asks Leonard to watch out for her and see that she's not using again. Then Michelle and Ron go off to his firm's box at the Met and leave Leonard in the company limo. It's a sobering moment that defines Leonard's lostness and the film's originality.
Leonard seems a misfit and a loser, but when Michelle takes him clubbing, he does some rapping in the car and break-dances wildly; he's got some game, somewhere. He also has those strong Jewish Russian family ties that run through Gray's films but don't save his protagonists from disaster. His mother Ruth (Isabella Rossellini, with a severe haircut) watches kindly over him and both his Pop and Cohen are ready to look out for him too. Shooting photos at Cohen's son's bar mitzvah, Leonard is part of a community, however awkwardly. He meets Michelle up on the roof. She doesn't fit in. But he wants her desperately. Meanwhile Sandra declares her love to him at a beach-side restaurant with complicated blue napkins.
'Two Lovers' is aswarm with an elaborate sound design that can be obtrusive. Background music overwhelms conversation at a family gathering, and an echoing passage from 'Cavalleria rusticana' is a bit overdone. It's more firmly glued together by images of long subway rides and dark expensive cars. Though the latter may seem leftovers from Gray's 'The Yards' and 'We Own the Night,' Gray has done a good job of downsizing from those while holding onto their resonance.
Joaquin Phoenix's performance is awkward in a way that would be very painful if it didn't feel so authentic and real. His Leonard is pathetic and lost, but has an inner core of goodness and generosity that makes it seem there may be hope for him. He's a real sucker, but he's a real decent fellow. Leonard has nothing, and so he is ready to throw away his life and throw it away again. Gray goes back to the smallness of his first film, but with a far greater intensity. Leonard's crises feel momentous. Their resolution is a quiet, mute shock. As in other Gray films, the hero blends into a party, and a family network. This time the sense of family and ritual is more offhand and organic than in the preceding two films.
'Two Lovers' has powerful moments. It's like a good short story and it has a surprise O. Henry ending. The performances are uniformly fine. The texture is thick enough with a sense of people and places to override some implausibility in the events. Phoenix's performance will have detractors who find Phoenix too awkward and say it's just as well he plans to quit acting after this for music. But on the contrary this movie made me see how disarming and unique the actor, once overshadowed by his dazzling brother River, has come to be at 35. It would be sad if he left the screen.
Here's an intensely absorbing indie-film, being released simultaneously in a few select cities and on digital pay-per-view. That seems to be a popular new way for smaller films to reach larger audiences. And believe me, "Two Lovers" deserves as large an audience as it can get. This will definitely end up being one of the best films of 2009.
The title and the trailer make it evident that this is a romantic drama in which one man is torn between two very different women. That man is Leonard Kraditor (Phoenix), a generally introverted man who has moved back in with his parents after a failed relationship. He is interested in black and white photography, but works in his father's dry-cleaning business. He is governed by depression, fending off thoughts of suicide with prescription medicine.
His parent's friends are also in the cleaning industry and they are considering a possible merge, which Leonard could one day take over. Their beautiful daughter is Sandra (Shaw), who is soon "fixed up" with Leonard. They nervously take the first steps into a new relationship, soon developing a comfortable rhythm that feels cathartic and safe for both.
Soon thereafter, Leonard stumbles into Michelle (Paltrow), an energetic blonde who moves into an apartment on the floor above. She is hyperactive and fun, representing a slightly more dangerous undertaking for Leonard. She becomes an even more enticing challenge when he finds out that she is kept by a wealthy married lawyer who repeatedly promises that he will leave his family for her.
One girl is safe and comfortable. The other is unattainable and risky. The film follows the labyrinthine emotional maze that Leonard has to navigate in order to find out what will make him the happiest. It is a fascinating journey that pulls the viewer back and forth as we try to make his decision for him.
Phoenix is naturally one of the most emotionally weighty performers in recent memory. He almost always carries around an anvil of angst in his roles -- and it is on full display here. Leonard balances on the edge of torment and ecstasy, never managing to fully commit to either. It is a marvelous effort -- I only hope it is not his last film, as he has recently hinted in interviews.
Paltrow is this critic's idea of silver-screen heaven. She lights up the screen in ways that render the film projector completely unnecessary. This is one of her most emotionally charged roles since "Hard Eight". Her character is scarred and needy, hidden beneath a veneer of nonchalant smiles. The part was written with Paltrow in mind - she absolutely does it justice.
I have been crazy about Vinessa Shaw since I first saw her as Domino in Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, "Eyes Wide Shut". She has a serene quality that fits this role perfectly. I am not sure there is an actress who can emote as subtly as Shaw can. As Sandra, she represents the hope for a peaceful, kind and safe existence with Leonard. It is just a matter of convincing him that those things are what he wants. Shaw is remarkable in every scene and deserves award consideration.
Heck, all three of them should be considered when Oscar rolls around in 2010. This is an ensemble, which includes a superb turn by Isabella Rossellini as Leonard's mother, that ranks as one of the best of the decade. "Two Lovers" is an actor's film -- allowing them to live and breathe on screen. The characters are fully realized, three-dimensional people who we can care about long after the fade-to-black.
James Gray is a patient director. His work includes "The Yards" and "We Own the Night". He is unafraid to let the characters develop without feeling the urge to stamp his name all over the production with needless flare. He is confident enough to let his writing do the work. Gray is fast becoming one of the more intriguing talents in the business.
"Two Lovers" is an honest and authentic film that requires a thoughtful, attentive and mature audience. The emotions are complex. The consequences are tangible. I really cared about what happened to these characters. How often can you say that about a movie? Absolutely do whatever you can to find this independent gem.
TC Candler's Movie Reviews
Director James Gray has a couple of nice credits to his name with "We Own the Night" and "Little Odessa". He obviously believes in Joaquin Phoenix as an actor, and rightly so. While Mr. Phoenix doesn't make for much of a talk show guest, he is unquestionably a top notch actor. Sadly, the two best actors in the 30-35 age group are now no longer acting. Heath Ledger is dead and Joaquin is turning hip-hop. Two losses for movie lovers.
Somehow this story had me caring about these three characters even though I found nothing really appealing about any of them. Phoenix's character is clinically diagnosed, Gwyneth Paltrow's character is a misguided mess and Vinessa Shaw is somehow attracted to the loopy and off-kilter Phoenix, proclaiming she will take care of him.
Toss in the always interesting Elias Koteas and Isabella Rossallini and we see how the pain, uncertainty and loneliness runs through so many. An understated Rossallini perfectly captures the desperate longings of a mother who just wants her son to be happy and normal. Koteas' character could have used another scene, but he is powerful in the restaurant.
Many will find fault with the ending, but I found it to be fitting and just. Paltrow chasing her dream, Shaw getting what she wants and Phoenix taking a shot at life.
Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) is a young man in his early 30's who has moved in with his parents following a devastating broken engagement and a suicide attempt. His parents are concerned over his fragility and mental stability (there are whisperings of depression and possibly bi-polar disorder) and encourage his involvement with family friend Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) a young woman more than willing to "take care of him." But when Leonard meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), his neighbor across the courtyard, he soon becomes smitten with the fun, enticing blonde. As both relationships progress and provide further complications (Michelle's other involvements, the business opportunities a life with Sandra will provide) a simply put but tremendously complex question is posed: do you choose the one you love or the one who loves you?
Like Gray's past films, notably The Yards and We Own the night for this viewer who has yet to see Little Odessa, this doesn't fashion a predictable run. Some filmmakers may have leaned towards a more typical romance, with clear-cut characters, a couple to root for and a happy ending. Like his past films, Gray's characters feel real, flawed, whose actions yield personal consequences. Its ending will leave some viewers inferring a hopeful conclusion, others a tragic one. The story was moving, at times funny, at times profound, and deeply affecting.
Of course, it's impossible to praise the film without focusing on Joaquin Phoenix's performance. Given Gray's propensity to write for him, their mutual praise, and the phenomenal portrayals that result, one can only deduce that this was a pairing fated to happen. Gray knows how to write human, imperfect, complicated, conflicting lead roles and equally or perhaps more importantly, Phoenix knows how to bring them to life. His Leonard is sometimes a sad, tragic figure but at turns can fill the screen with so much light and so much charisma you almost wonder, for a moment, why there aren't more than two women chasing after this troubled young man who lives with his parents. In a scene in a car with Michelle and her friends leading into a surprisingly sexy dance scene in a club, Phoenix's boyish, natural charm wins the women over in impressively little time. Leonard also is a bit socially awkward, playful, but clumsy and seemingly out of place with the world, Joaquin plays this wonderfully and very believably, but it did inspire a reaction from my viewing mate that I found rather entertaining. She remarked that Joaquin is so handsome and has such a stunning, intense look, that to see him play a bit of a socially inept, goofy character didn't suit his looks. She may have a point, in that his looks seem more suited to his We Own the Night character--confident, cool. But nothing could detract from his performance here. He is certainly the heart of the film, and adds a quietness and depth to Leonard that made me eager for future viewings. And to add something that stands out to me here, there is something so genuine about Phoenix's emotional, crying scenes that it catches me off guard and seems to within instant make so many other actors' "crying" scenes seem like artifice. Perhaps it's a further glean into his gift as an actor, but something so tender is revealed in these moments, it brings great humanity to those scenes.
The rest of the cast does very well. This is Gwyneth's best work in years, perhaps her best role as well, she doesn't disappoint. Shaw's beauty is toned down, which helps in making her less of a stunner and more a nice-looking local girl who's instantly attracted to Leonard's shy charm. Both Moni Moshonov and Isabella Rossellini, as Leonard's parents, are great opposite Phoenix, the three share a believable comfort with each other.
Two Lovers is a great character-driven drama centering on a troubled young man's impossible choice to either try for a life he never knew he could have, or the one he feels he's intended to have. This is elegant film-making with moving drama, a great cast, and another masterful performance from Phoenix, again completely in-sync with Gray's storytelling. Theirs is a seamless collaboration.
Having no expectations, not having heard or seen any hype about it, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I think all aspects of a *good* film are present. It is beautifully shot and quite brilliantly acted which together created the right, moody, slightly claustrophobic atmosphere for this rather bleak, sometimes humorous, story to progress.
We're given a brief, intimate insight into three damaged individuals lives and I think ultimately shows us some conflicting concepts that arise from the pursuit of love and happiness, and familial duty.
I'm pretty certain this is the best film I've seen so far this year. While there's no way of comparing this to my last years favourite of No country for Old Men, I think this might also be Oscar material.
I liked the story line precisely for the reasons some of the critics did not - inconclusiveness of the situation. The narrative should not be treated as a moral tale with prescribed behavior and a suggestion to act certain way. For some of us, who lived and experienced, life situations have no clear conclusions, especially in the matter concerning personal relationships. And so we are shown various geometrical configurations of relationships between people: A loves B, B loves C, C loves D; D perhaps does not love anyone; C can not settle for B and returns to D when D calls; B settles for A. Who's right and who's wrong? Luckily this is not all there is about this film. There are interesting shots, exotic locations (Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY), very good acting.
Some reviewers complained that the narrative is too predictable - perhaps. I personally would prefer more broader metaphor, perhaps more connection with social dimension, more resonance between personal and social. Oh well, I hope this is coming in the next Gray's films.
Leonard is "artistic" simply because he uses black and white film in his camera? Please. His humiliating neglect of Sandra somehow leads to her saying "You're so kind to me"? You're f%$&*%$ kidding me. Michelle is damaged enough that yeah, she might get herself mixed up with a trainwreck like Leonard. Maybe the filmmakers intended to show us that Sandra was ALSO emotionally crippled, thus explaining why she turns all of his abuse and neglect into "he loves me!" (like Krazy Kat getting hit in the head with Ignatz's bricks, which she receives as kisses), but I missed it. If Leonard's parents are so blind that they can't see that their son is a basket case, are Sandra's parents also so indifferent to the hell that their daughter will end up enduring, if she marries this man? When Sandra's father asks Leonard point blank "Are you a f#$%-up?", I wanted to shout at the screen "YES HE IS! You know that too, or else you wouldn't be asking!"
The only way I could possibly consider this movie to be a success on any level is if I were told that the filmmakers INTENDED us to see Leonard as a monster, and that the audience is INTENDED to view the uncomprehending ignorance of this fact by everyone around him with revulsion.
This was a film I watched and enjoyed during one of my rare visits to a movie theatre. Yes, I am a cultural moron and Philistine usually preferring to watch DVD movies in the comfort of my home. Unless a movie is especially panoramic or epic in nature nothing is lost by watching it on the small screen. I could have equally enjoyed Two Lovers in DVD. This little melodrama does not need a large screen. It is a simple film based on a simple but well-crafted tale, a melodramatic short story. It is also helped along by a wonderful cast. The background music is haunting and sad.
The film begins with a half–hearted suicide attempt by the anti-hero Leonard Kraditor (amiably played by Joaquin Phoenix who is one of my favourite screen actors). Leonard is the adult thirty something son of émigré Israeli parents (who make a modest living from a rundown dry-cleaning business). The parents are played by the Israeli actor Moni Moshonov and his wife (Ruth) by Isabella Rossellini who seems a bit too calm for a typical anxious Jewish mother. But that is the part allotted to her by the script and is no reflection on her acting. (Maybe the scriptwriters did not want to go over the top in stereotyping ). Leonard is the typical Mediterranean only son suffocated by kindness and intense family bonds. (At one point his parents demand to know where he has been).
There's our would-be suicidal anti-hero, single and dwelling at home with Momma and Poppa in a dingy, rather Bohemian apartment Brighton Beach, a seedy immigrant district, a backyard to America's great metropolis. Here is New York City without the glitter, glamour and excitement. It is late October or early November with grey chilly looking skies, wet and dismal. The main decor in the old fashioned apartment is a wall full of framed sepia photos of family ancestors ; Russians or East European Jews by their appearance.
One naturally asks why the half–hearted attempt at suicide with which the film opens? It is partially the hopelessness of Leonard's life, as it seems to him. He has achieved nothing and does odd jobs at the store. His fiancée has just left him because they both share a common regressive gene which would mean that any infant born to them would not survive (perhaps this brutal fact is used as an excuse by the girl to leave him). We get only a brief glance of her for about a second in the movie. She is a factor of Leonard's immediate past rather than a character. Leonard himself is clever, humorous and handsome in an unusual albeit rather shabby way, whose hobby is photography.
The essence of the tale begins after his parents invite the Cohens, for dinner with their children including a very attractive and alluring thirty something brunette daughter Sandra (Vanessa Shaw). Michael Cohen owns a much larger dry-cleaning business than Mr. Kraditor's and has his eyes on Reuben's own store. Naturally a marriage between the two families would be ideal; Reuben could have the retirement he longs for while Leonard would run the expanded business resulting from the merger.At the same time they can relax after Sandra's wedding;from the Cohen's viewpoint she has been single too long.
There is evidently a mutual attraction between the two young people , but unknown to the Cohens or his parents there has been a new development in Leonard's life that will complicate matters.
By chance Leonard bumps into Michelle Rausch (Gywneth Paldrow) in the corridor just outside his parents' home. She's a pretty blonde girl who dwells in the same shabby but genteel apartment complex as Leonard but it is the first time he has seen her close up. Michelle is single and rather older than Leonard. Her lover, a married man with kids, pays her rent. It turns out she's, spoiled, emotionally mixed up and addicted to club life, alcohol and ecstasy pills but not dumb. She is a far cry from the more attractive, caring and dependable Sandra Cohen. Indeed, Michelle can be quite callous with Leonard at times.an is using him. However, in Leonard's eyes Michelle is his own choice not somebody thrust upon him by his parents for family business reasons. It is the typical infatuation of a dusky Mediterranean male with a Baltic or Scandinavian blonde (see Al Pacino in Carlito's Way). Is Leonard making a mistake? Thereby hangs the tale and I leave it to the prospective moviegoer to follow how the tale unfolds an whether or not they like the conclusion (I did although an entirely different and alternative ending was in the cards ). Two lovers, one a crazy girl friend with awesome complications, and the other a prospective steady fiancée approved by his parents, between them and our anti-hero it's a dynamite mixture for a powerful tale.
It also sometimes does ring of familiarity and those slightly weird and awkward (I won't say quirky) moments that come out of who this character Leonard is around. He's a hopeless suicide attempter, at the start jumping into shallow water off of a dock in Brighton Beach, New York, and we see him after this go through and between two relationships: one with a normal, grounded woman who was partially set-up by her father who is close friends with Leonard's father, an owner of a laundromat (I say partially since she, Sofia, says curiously that she was attracted to Leonard when she saw him, without much explanation why), and the other a fairly dysfunctional "chiksa" (in Yiddish meaning "non-Jewish-woman") who is having an affair with a married man and is fairly screwed up in ways that, more likely than not, appeal to Leonard's own screwed-up ways.
The will-he-or-wont-he quandary if leaving everything with Gwyneth Paltrow's chiksa is left only as a last act kind of question most prominently, but it's also something else that leads to a constant dilemma for Leonard. We know we've seen this before, sure, and it's something that may even go back as far as storytelling itself. This being the convention of a man choosing between a safe, grounded relationship in his own home environment, practically an arranged marriage (Sofia's father will set Leonard up as a manager of a soon-to-be branch of laundromats throughout Brooklyn if he doesn't "f***-up"), or leaving everything to chance with the one he 'really' loves.
This material is familiar, but James Gray elevates it with a personal, touching mood with his direction and with the naturalism of the writing. Nothing feels too fake, and the only real fault I could find (which is something of another convention in these stories) is that the grounded/safe woman isn't given quite as much screen time or much back-story or depth or emotional resonance as Paltrow's character (this isn't to decry Vinessa Shaw's performance since it's very good). All of the acting brings out what is best in Gray's material, which is imbuing the simple nature of the script with a fierce emotional current. It's a romantic drama on the surface, but Gray is also very interested in Leonard's soul, what he feels and thinks in this very crucial time.
And, as mentioned, Phoenix presents every little thing, or of course big thing (i.e. his tender and powerful declaration of love on the rooftop) like it's everything in the world. He also works very well off of Paltrow, who with this and Iron Man has made kind of a minor comeback as an actress. The two play so well together on screen that it's an extra shame to think it might be the one and only time; they pour so much heart in their scenes that whatever else, however minor, that doesn't click quite as well in the rest of the film is made up for. It's resonant, moving drama with an ending that leaves you feeling drained but glad it didn't take the "easy" route, or the more melodramatic one.
Joaquin Phoenix hands down is one of the greatest young actors of our generation and it is a shame that for some reason, he needs to make people think he's quit acting and gone rapping because in TWO LOVERS, he gives an Oscar worthy performance for a not so Oscar worthy film. As a man who's still hurt by his past love and thinks that the only way to heal is to connect with someone who's as f*ed up as he is Joaquin is riveting and pitch-perfect. Only a few actors can say so much without saying anything at all and Joaquin Phoenix has that ability. You feel sorry and angry at him at the same time for some of the decisions he makes and the thoughts that run through his head. What a brilliant actor.
James Gray's direction who's helmed Joaquin before in We Own The Night is a bit mediocre, there's not much groundbreaking vision that he's brought to the table, even the whole spontaneous sex out of rage scene is nothing new and a bit cliché. But I do like the concept of the story. Vanessa Shaw's in love with Joaquin Phoenix but Phoenix is in love with Gwyneth Paltrow but Paltrow is in love with a married man. Aside from Shaw, none of them appreciate that other person that actually loves them. And it's funny how it emphasizes what we people tend to say to the ones we have feelings for.. "I'll take care of you", but the fact is we often can't even take care of ourselves, much less other people. That's the mistake that we tend to make, we're so strung out and blinded by lust and obsession that we choose to ignore the consequences that might come out of associating ourselves with people that might bring us down instead of lifting us up. Instead.. we should find a person who's independent and strong willed because you can only go so far with taking care of someone before you finally hit a breaking point and give up, the story of TWO LOVERS tackles something that other drama rarely touches and I admire that, it's just too bad that every other aspect about it is just, once again, nothing short of average.
The film's antihero is Leonard Kraditor, child of Jewish immigrants. Leonard is an unusual case of someone without significant psychological problems (other than depression) who still resides with his parents. Though, he has tried to kill himself. He lives in Brooklyn and works at his father's tailor shop. He's a relatively hard-working person who is still unmarried. His parents arrange a meeting between Leonard and Sandra, the daughter of their friends. Both young people are Jews and both have parents involved in clothing repair. The arrangement is favored by Sandra's intelligence and beauty. A lot of guys wouldn't mind dating her. Leonard, in order for this movie to have conflict, befriends and later falls in love with his blonde, non-Jewish neighbor Michelle. Her last name is German, another reason his parents would disapprove of her. She's secretary/mistress for a married attorney in town. Leonard convinces Michelle to dump that loser and flee to San Francisco with him, which never happens. Our heartbroken protagonist thus settles into marriage with Sandra.
Two Lovers, unlike many romance pictures, does not give us a reason to root for Leonard to pick one relationship over the other. Either woman could probably make him happy. One is better than the other because Leonard happens to prefer her. The film depicts love as the mysterious force we romanticize it to be. Sandra's mannerisms are accentuated for this effect. Michelle's appearance is purposeful too. Each woman is an idea for Leonard. The running time allows the Ontological plot to be solved.
Leonard is a flawed guy who violates one woman's emotions while chasing another's. It's appropriate that he is attracted to someone who shares his baggage. Michelle is afflicted with a deeper level of his bad habits. She is toying with someone who is permanently unavailable. At the end of the whole thing, I felt bad for Sandra. Leonard may be the main character, the ending may be "bad" for him, but Sandra's situation is tragic.
The movie lacks the melodrama of most romance movies and will become a sleeper classic. Perhaps its virtue is manifested in the ending. We would expect Leonard to kill himself since he cannot be with the woman he loves. Instead he marries the other woman. He may not be perfectly content, but then who is? It's better than suicide. Typical Hollywood romances are undone by their reliance on fantastical human interactions. Sugary movies like Twilight are loved when released but later forgotten when honest flicks like this one emerge. People really do want something familiar, even in romances.
**** out of *****
They show the absurdity of believing that any one person can be used as a way to solve your problems. "Have a leftover engagement ring? Give it to another girl who you aren't on a sure footing with!" No sane person would offer that advice, yet it's a quick and easy solution that Leonard sees, in a desperate attempt to try and 'fix' himself...
In reality, a person can't see the worth of someone else until they're fully cognisant of their own issues, and Leonard was still very far away from being a whole, self-sufficient person in his own right, when we left him at the end of the movie.
By unwittingly using people as substitutes to try to patch up old problems, you'll only wind up storing new ones for yourself, at a later date. We - and the people around us - don't always see the value of romantic partners who are right for us at the time. We don't always love who's 'best'. Following your heart is dangerous, because it's impulsive, and you don't always have time to weigh up the proper merits of something before you dive in and realise that you're way over your head... Nevertheless, because Leonard's emotional and looking for someone to cling to, that's his approach, and that's also how many other people live their lives.
Leonard had two lovers to choose from, but at no point would either option have addressed the root troubles. Other people only magnify our weaknesses and turn them into practical problems, which soon begin to take on a separate life of their own... It's like being stranded on a life-raft in the middle of the ocean, with no possibility of escape from the situation - You're still drowning, you're just doing it by degree! Now isn't that a nice cosy thought to cuddle up with, at night?! The buck stops and starts with you, and no-one else should be charged with the role of being your saviour.
It's nice to see some honesty displayed, which acts as a sort of palliative for the other glossy romance messages we're served year after year.
Leonard discovers a beautiful woman looking from his window. He is a photographer and he appreciates the radiant neighbor, Michelle. Unfortunately, Michelle is having her own problems. She has been having an affair with a married lawyer who has set her up in the apartment. Leonard follows her to the subway, making believe he is just going her way.
Meanwhile the Kraditors get an offer from Michael Cohen to merge with the two business and become stronger. The Cohens whose daughter, Sandra, seems to be a perfect match for Leonard, without anything ever being mentioned. Sandra, not as beautiful as Michelle, appears to be a grounded young woman who knows what she really wants. Her interest in Leonard is genuine, it just happens as the two meet. He, on the other hand, cannot see beyond the infatuation he feels for Michelle.
Things come to a head when Michelle decides to leave her lover. Leonard, who has confessed his love for her, decides to go with her to San Francisco, where she has friends. She wants to get away as far as she can from a bad relationship. As they are about to depart, Leonard receives a blow when Michelle decides to stay with the man she really loves.
James Gray's "Two Lovers" was shot in Brooklyn. In a way, it kept reminding us of one of his previous films, "Little Odessa", also set in that part of New York. Although the atmosphere on this new project is not as oppressive as the previous one, there are elements Mr. Gray uses that bear a sort of continuity to two different stories as these two films are.
Writing the screenplay with Ric Menello, the director creates people that are real. We have known people like the ones whose lives are shown in the picture. Their main character Leonard is a man whose depression is clearly understood. The man is tormented, therefore, he grabs into the illusion of being loved by Michelle, instead of realizing, that in a way, she has manipulated him since she has no intention of going ahead with their plan to elope and start a new life.
In Joaquin Phoenix, the director has found the right actor to give life to his Leonard. Mr. Phoenix keeps showing us why he is one of the most interesting young actors working in films today. In fact, the announcement of his leaving his career was hard to comprehend. Why could this talented man throw everything he had worked for, is beyond all comprehension. Luckily, it appears that he will continue working.
Gwineth Paltrow sticks out like a sore thumb in the relationship between her and Leonard. She is too ethereal a woman in order to make sense, let alone falling for a man that, probably in her world, is a loser. Ms. Paltrow gives a good performance. The surprise here is Vinessa Shaw, who plays Sandra, the good girl. Ms. Shaw gives a nuanced rendition of this woman who stands to be hurt, but in the end, she is rewarded because Leonard comes to his senses, finally. The supporting cast is fine. Isabella Rossellini, Moni Moshonov, and Bob Ari, enhance the film with their presence.
Joaquin Baca Asay, who had worked with Mr. Gray in "We Own the Night" photograph the film in moody dark tones that blends well with the production. James Gray keeps surprising all the time.
A classic tale of a man caught between two women. It's finely wrought, and Joaquin Phoenix in particular is spectacular in his role. He is a little mixed up, and morally corrupt, even though utterly compliant and likable, and tender. The women, a troubled neighbor played by Gwyneth Paltrow and a sweet compatible friend of the family played by Vinessa Shaw, are also right on, Paltrow in particular playing a difficult role with lots of different moods.
One person's classic is another person's tired and worn, however, and there is a little feeling that we've seen this before. The particular family core, Israeli and American Jewish New York, is convincing--if you are from New York you'll recognize this kind of family. And street scenes and night club scenario and even the way the apartment building is laid out seems coolly realistic without too much fanfare. Or originality. On purpose.
Which means we are brought back, one way or another, to the acting, and this is where things shine.
A 30-ish guy comes home to his family after a stint in the loony bin. He is suicidal, popping psychiatric meds, works in his dad's laundry (but fails at even that simple job) and is indulged in an "art" he's not very good at and that we never see him work at. He is inarticulate and self- pitying and still has a photo of his fiancé, now two years gone, by his bed.
Into this pitiful life come two beautiful employed women who want him very much. Why? No story reason suggests itself. No one with any life experience would believe such women would. When he has sex with them, they have orgasms within 15 seconds or so, leading me to suspect the writer/director may have never had sex with an actual woman. (Or maybe the women are faking it to get rid of him more quickly, which would make some sense.)
His parents never are anything less than 100% supportive, no matter how awful his behavior, which I you could argue explains how much of a loser he is, but I don't believe the script is that self-aware.
I liked the set design, the score wasn't as manipulative as you might fear it would be considering the soap opera nature of the story, and the acting was fine. But the screenwriter's ideas about women are risible fantasies of an adolescent mind. I fully expect him to be writing movies in 50 years wherein hot 18 year old women are incredibly attracted to ugly 70 year old men, because we've seen that's what the puer aeternus does.
There are many things wrong with the script; I will cover only a few of them. The thing that sinks the story from the beginning is that neither of the women that Leonard is involved with would ever give him the time of day in real life. Living with his parents, being inarticulate, and not being able to succeed in his simple job of delivering cleaning to his dad's customers would set off enough alarms for any woman to give this man wide berth. And Sandra would have known of his suicidal impulses--such things are never secret among close families. Why would Sandra, an attractive healthy woman, pursue such a loser? Leonard's room is a mess, a physical manifestation of his mind; his mother would never allow for this kind of mess in her house.
At the end Leonard and Michelle, in a spur of the moment decision, are to take off to California together. You know that this is never going to happen and are just waiting for the excuse which comes in the form of Michelle's announcing that her high-dollar married lover has decided to divorce and be with her. Leonard is crushed and in despair, but instead of another suicide attempt he returns to a party and offers Sandra the diamond ring that he was going to give to Michelle. Any normal person is not going to switch emotional gears so easily, so I doubt that an emotional train wreck like Leonard would be able to do so.
Isabella Rossellini is good as Leonard's mother; Joaquin Phoenix is convincing as a mumbling nerd, but not so much as a romantic partner; sadly, Gwyneth Paltrow is wasted.
This is an unbelievable concoction dreamed up by screenwriters who seemingly have little understanding how real people interact.