Two Lovers Review


Love isn’t easy, despite the tendency for films to make it seem that way. Movies like “The Proposal” present falling in love as this series of hyjinks. The only difficulties are related to the just kooky situations the two subjects find themselves in. Occasionally, a film, such as “(500) Days of Summer,” gets love right. Director James Gray’s “Two Lovers” is another such film. It treats love as imperfect. It says you can never really have it all. The main character must choose between a happy, comfortable life with a nice girl or a life of intense passion and instability with an erratic girl. His journey to a decision makes for an interesting, albeit imperfect, watch.

Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) is having a rough time. He’s a bit unstable as evidenced by the scars on his wrists and his aborted attempt to drown himself at the start of the film. He lives with his overprotective parents in Brooklyn and doesn’t have much going for him. His parents introduce him to Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of his father’s business partner. She seems to really have a thing for Leonard, and he thinks she’s nice, but his true feelings belong to a neighbor, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). Michelle thinks Leonard is a great guy, but she is involved with a married man who has promised to leave his family for her. Yet Leonard cannot stop thinking about her, even as things with Sandra start to get more serious.

One of the great things about “Two Lovers” is three-dimensionality of all the characters. None of them are stock, so the conclusion is emotionally satisfying. All three characters are flawed, but these flaws do not demonize them. In fact, you can relate to all three of their flaws to some degree. Leonard gets too invested emotionally, Sandra is not passionate enough, and Michelle is flighty and indecisive.

The solid acting is a key part of making these characters come to life as they do. This was Joaquin Phoenix’s last film before he “retired” from acting to become a rapper (there’s a scene in “Two Lovers” in which Leonard raps which makes me think this retirement will be short-lived). But he does a good job as Leonard. You feel his pain as his relationship with Michelle gets more and more complicated. You also really feel for Sandra, who has no idea of Leonard’s feelings for Michelle. Vinessa Shaw imbues Sandra with a perfect mixture of independence and vulnerability to make the awkward third leg of the love tripod much more interesting than you might expect.

Gwyneth Paltrow, however, is the film’s standout. Michelle is everything that Leonard doesn’t need in his fragile state, yet everything he wants, and it’s understandable why. But Paltrow does a great job making her more than just an unattainable vixen. Michelle is just as vulnerable as either Leonard or Sandra, maybe even more so, for she desperately clings to the hope that her lover will leave his wife. In a weak year for the Best Supporting Actress category, it would have been nice for Gwyneth Paltrow’s name to pop up somewhere. But I don’t see that as even a remote possibility. “Two Lovers” got an awkward release in February of 2009. That’s just about enough to rule it out of contention for any Academy Awards (and the bizarre, off-putting behavior of its star won’t help either).

I wish this film was more widely seen, for there’s nothing really inaccessible about it (in the sense that it’s not too arty or quirky). I think it is a little light on plot, and it was unfortunately overshadowed at the time of its release by Phoenix, but there’s nothing here that couldn’t be appreciated by mainstream audiences. It’s an honest and uncompromising look at love featuring great acting and writing, but I guess it will have to be remembered as another underseen, underappreciated little gem.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *