on 31 August 2009
Two Lovers (what a banal title by the way) is about a love triangle in which both females do not know of their "rival". So the film concentrates on Leonard's relationship with these two women and his emotional negotiation of the two poles of reality that they represent. There's been criticism that women such as the glamorous Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) and the kindhearted homebody Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) would not fall for a manic depressive like Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) who is apparently stuck in a state of arrested development, still living at home with his conservative Jewish parents. But that's rubbish: nowhere is the moth-to-the-flame and lamb-to-the-slaughter dynamic stronger than in the field of love. Both men and women - often irrespective of upbringing, age, intelligence, and background, but not emotional stability - can crash into the arms of people who seem and perhaps are wholly inappropriate. Not just a few tears but months and years can be wasted on dysfunctional attempts for the relationship to fulfil an ideal, a projection or a longing that it simply cannot fulfil.
And so it is with Leonard: Thanks to Phoenix's brilliantly instinctual portrayal, you really feel for Leonard when he fidgets with shame and insecurity as he's trying to impress and get close to Michelle. Her long glossy blonde locks, her partying, her encouragement of his creative pursuits and her own mysterious job (Leonard watches as she steps into a black, chauffeur-driven Mercedes): Michelle is a woman from another world, who represents escapism and freedom for Leonard from his dreary work in the family business, the claustrophobia of living with his parents and uncomfortable recognition of his own unfulfilled potential. Sandra offers him the opposite: comfort, security, reliability and a steady, stable love - all values that keep him inside the family dynamic in which he has grown up. Leonard's journey is an internal one: What are his values? What and who does he love? And to what extent is he prepared for a conflict to arise between his love for (or rather projection on) a woman and his role and feelings of responsibility within his family? In tune with his skittish, unsettled personality and psychological problems, Leonard experiences these questions on a deep emotional level.
Ultimately, this well acted and directed film is not about love itself, but rather psychological projection and the role our environment plays in choosing the ones we love - or the ones with whom we choose to settle down. If there are faults, I'd say that they are small ones:
- Michelle's father, who is never seen, is barely mentioned again after Leonard meets Michelle in the hallway, which seems dramatically unconvincing. It's a little too obvious that her father is used as a catalyst/dramatic device for her and Leonard to meet in the first place.
- It feels a bit unlikely that Leonard would be the son of such parents, although this may have to do with Phoenix being so famous that it takes an extra dose of imagination on the viewer's part to wrench him from his position in celebrity culture and re-position him in this role as son in this family environment (not a fault of his acting).
- James Gray speaks on the director's commentary about trying to reach a "poetic truth" by using thunder and wind as pathetic fallacy. These are stock tropes for conveying the idea of conflict and disruption (e.g. Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights); it would have been interesting to explore new ways of demonstrating something unsettling without the usual sudden arrival of poor weather.
- I'd say Gray overdoes the glove symbolism at the end.
But this is compelling stuff, especially from Phoenix. (4.5 stars)
* The Beautiful Person - directed by Christophe Honoré and starring Louis Garrel
* Anna M (DVD) - directed by Michel Spinosa and starring Isabelle Carre
* Gisela (DVD) - directed by Isabelle Stever and starring Carlo Ljubek
A few weeks in the life of 35-year-old Leonard, living with his doting parents in their Brooklyn apartment and covering the relationships he has with two very different women. He has a history of mental illness and attempts on his own life, and in the film he faces a choice between the 'sensible' woman his parents want him to marry (for business reasons as much as any other) and a woman neighbour who leads a drug- and alcohol-fuelled partying and clubbing life style but whose sadness and depression seem to appeal to Leonard's own unstable state of mind.
This is writer and director James Gray's third film in a row in partnership with Joaquin Phoenix (after The Yards and We Own the Night) and apparently Phoenix's swansong now that he has chosen a new career in music. While it does have some mildly amusing moments the overall atmosphere is downbeat and tragic from the very start, although the ending was not the one I had expected. The acting is of a high standard across the cast, and while Phoenix will deservedly attract all the attention for a superb and touching performance, Isabella Rossellini was an inspired choice of casting as the overly inquisitive and relentlessly worried mother. And while it is not exactly an adult film, most of the issues will be of interest mainly to a more mature audience. These issues include parents' reactions to a would-be son-in-law's mental illness and how it could be passed down to future offspring; it was in fact this that led to Leonard's most recent suicide attempt. With other matters such as drug use, infidelity and miscarriages central to the story line and all dealt with from a serious perspective, the film is thought-provoking, moving and worth seeing more than once.
From a technical perspective there was little in the way of obvious high-definition benefit, this being an intelligent story rather than a visual cinematic feast. I rented it on Blu-Ray but if I were to buy it I would probably choose standard-def if there was a worthwhile saving. As for extras, there were three deleted scenes totalling ten minutes, at least one of which I feel should have been included in the original cut as it better explained Leonard's mother's knowledge of his clandestine relationship. Of useful value was a full re-run of the film with a commentary by the director. Subtitles on my copy were English only.
4.5 stars would be appropriate. This is an intelligent story acted out with passion and skill by its leading man in particular, the script is excellent and I would recommend it to anyone who likes romantic drama with an emphasis on the drama.
on 5 June 2009
This is a film about normal, troubled people facing real problems and choices. For those whose minds have been rotted by 2D stories, characters and special effects, please do yourselves a favor and stay away. But if you appreciate great acting, literate themes and characterizations, and aren't afraid of a little ambiguity and doubt, then buy one of the best films of the decade when it's released on DVD. Kudos to co-writers James Gray and Ric Menello!
This is something a bit different and might not appeal to everyone but this drama holds quite a good storyline that does provide you with plenty to "think about" and that's a good sign for the most part. At times it can be a little slow and pondering, but there are some fine performances from the cast and the story is something most of us can relate to.
I quite like Joaquin Phoenix he's certainly a capable actor and this role works well for him. Here he plays Leonard Kraditor somewhat of a loner Leonard is a keen photographer and has recently had some difficult moments. The opening scenes show Leonard attempting to end his life (but in a half hearted way and abandons the idea), it becomes clear he's had bad luck in his life romance wise.
His parents are naturally concerned and arrange for him to meet up with the daughter of his father's business partner (Vinessa Shaw who plays Sandra Cohen) the two seem to get along fine and they arrange a future meeting with a view to dating. However Leonard soon meets neighbour Michelle Rausch (Gwyneth Paltrow) and strikes up a friendship which soon turns into something which captivates Leonard, he's torn between his potential "nice/sensible but not that exciting " girlfriend and the new found Michelle who is the exact opposite, outgoing, likes to party hard, very pretty/sexy (Vinessa Shaw is an attractive woman but she's been deliberately under made up for the film) Leonard is somewhat hooked with the attraction and fast pace of Michelle.
Unfortunately for Leonard the girl he likes most is Michelle, but there are complications namely she is involved with a married man by the name of Ronald Blatt (Elias Koteas) I won't spoil the plot by giving away too many details, just to say Leonard has to make a choice between the evasive and hard to pin down, and "complicated/with problems" Michelle, or the rather less interesting but kind hearted Sandra as he tried to juggle relationships with both women.
I liked the film for a few reasons firstly the cast on all levels are very good Joaquin has that deep intensity that makes Leonard believable as a character, and both female roles are played equally well and contrast the differences between the two women. Direction is solid, leisurely paced at times, script is strong as is screen play. I personally like the ending it's something that's a bit unique in that Leonard ends up with one girl not really by choice but how events are played out and has no real control, it leaves things a little uncomfortable for the viewer, but then I'd rather that then a production that was obvious story wise from the start.
Not going to be everyone's cup of tea that's for certain, but if you like a slower moving considered but intriguing romance drama this could be worth a look. Quite a lot better than I expected, partly down to the strong cast though.
on 10 January 2013
"Two Lovers" is a thoughtful drama that examines the lives of three vulnerable thirty something New Yorkers.
We meet Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) at the start of the movie, as he attempts suicide. He hasn't gotten over the break up of his engagement. He lives with his parents and has a job in the family business. His parents arrange a meeting with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a daughter of family friends. She is beautiful but shy and quiet. It is clear the parents of both of them would like to make a "match". Sandra and Leonard get on very well so it looks like their parents will get their wish.
Then Leonard meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has just moved into the same apartment building. They also get on very well. Leonard is very taken by her beauty and lifestyle, which seems much more exciting than his.
She has a rich boyfriend, but he sometimes treats her badly and it is clear that Leonard that wants to "rescue" her. Michelle seems selfish by leading Leonard along and we wonder how he will react if she rejects him, which seems very likely.
Of course things don't go smoothly in this love triangle as Leonard starts to go out with Sandra, while secretly keeping contact with Michelle in the hope that they will somehow become a couple.
The ending may not be to everyone's liking but I enjoyed the movie. There are good performances from the three lead actors and I particularly loved Isabella Rossellini as Leonard's mother, always worried about her troubled son and hoping that he will find happiness.
on 27 January 2010
An interesting drama about an imperfect love triangle. Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard, a man perhaps in his early thirties, living in a New Jersey apartment with his parents, a Jewish couple who have a small dry cleaning operation where Leonard works. Leonard has a story behind him: an engagement with a girl was broken some years ago when they found that they were genetically incompatible, and he has tried to kill himself in the past, more than once. His parents, worried by him, try to set him up with Sandra, the nice daughter of a fellow (and apparently wealthier) Jewish businessman. Though not terribly enthusiastic about Sandra, he starts going out with her, who is very attracted to him (why a seemingly down to earth person like Sandra would be attracted to an obviously troubled person like Leonard is unclear, though I suppose things like this happen, though not very usually, in real life). But just when Leonard and Sandra start meeting and knowing each other, he meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow, who is great), an impetuous, beautiful, but messed-up neighbor. Leonard falls for Michelle quickly, but soon realizes that she sees him basically as an asexual friend, and feels no sexual attraction whatsoever for him. In fact, Michelle has a relationship with a married man, and wants Leonard to go out with them in order to see if he would be willing to leave his family to her. A normal man would realize there is no hope with her and tell her goodbye at this point, but Leonard is too smitten with Michelle to do so. And so, while his relationship with Sandra starts growing, so does his obsession with Michelle (who, while not really loving him, is constantly calling him for help). At the end, Leonard would have to make a choice between the nice Sandra, who loves him but is somewhat boring, and the unstable Michelle, who is gorgeous and fun to be with, but also very unstable, and if that wasn't enough, really doesn't love him, and would probably leave him soon if she would even agree to be with him. Not an awful dilemma for a well grounded person. One could argue with the resolution, assuming that Michelle is telling Leonard the truth (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD): men almost never leave their wives for their lovers, and especially unstable and emotionally immature women like Michelle. Still, these points aside, this is a solid, well-acted movie, which is never boring, and rings truthful most of the time.
on 10 July 2015
Well-cast, well-written and well-directed love story minus the often-obligatory gratuitous sex scenes. This one reverses the usual scenario by having a depressive male choosing between two women while running both - as ongoing girlfriends - unbeknown to each other. One is normal, but dull; the other pretty, but neurotic.
US films are showing positive signs of growing up as the audience itself ages with the passing of the post-World War 2 baby boom. This, then, is a profound meditation on modern, Western way of love, emotional need and meaning in life that obviously comes from direct experience.
Joaquin PHOENIX dominates throughout and even his body language effectively communicates a bereft, psychologically-disconnected soul who does not really know who he is nor what he wants. All of the performers, in fact, seize the opportunity to do some real acting; making this a totally engrossing experience.
All in all, a slight storyline, cleverly-plotted, that communicates its points loud and clear with just the subtlest of gestures to imply more feeling than could ever be shown.
on 16 February 2010
This is one of the best movies of 2009, and one of the most underrated. It deserved much better attention and success.
The price is fantastic, so, even if you have some doubts about watching it, it's still worth buying.
You won't get disappointed
on 18 March 2010
I had to give it four stars because, well, it is really good. But I hated it. It is heavy and depressing and, at times, tedious. Joaquin is indeed a fine actor, but I just can't see Gwen or anybody else going for him. He's just so, well, Heavy. I watched this film last night and wished I hadn't watched it. Okay, so it's a story about two people who are utterly self-involved and get together and end up going their own ways because one of them saw a better way for herself. Bye bye love, bye bye happiness hello loneliness. Yep.
If you like Von Trier and Bergman, you'll love this film. Watch it and weep.
on 23 August 2009
If this movie is Joaquin Phoenix's last ever movie, Hollywood has lost a outstanding actor that has protrayed amazing characters with real emotions and expressions that you either feel for or afraid of his next actions. With Two Lovers, he steals the show from everyone else by playing a character you want to have a happy ending. He is Lenoard, a attrative but troubled man that had a devsating relationship that nearly killed him in his sucide attempt. Realising he must move on, he meets two very different women that will change his life forever. Sandra is also attrative, she cares for him a lot and is the proper woman to settle down with. Michelle is a self-destracted person with a wild style and has a hidden secret that he will battle for her affections. But he has to make a choice, the sensible Sandra or the bad girl Michelle? It's funny and sad in places, these bunch of characters are ones you wouldn't forget in a hurry. Sure, Gwenth Patlrow and the other co-stars make really good pefomances but this is without doubt Phoenix's movie. He plays his character with such oddness and his affections for both of the women are truely heartbreaking especially near the ending. I can't believe he would give up such a brilliant job he does so well to be a beared rap star, I have admired his work for a long time and it dosen't feel the same without him not being a actor. If this is the path he wants, I hope for the best and be happy for his success. Take a bow, Joaquin Phoenix, your movies will stand the test of time even though some werrn't masterpieces but I will never forget your pefomances in Gladiator and Walk The Line. Worth seeing if you are a fan of Phoenix's work or just a movie to spend a hour or so of your time.