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  Two Lovers

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini

Directed by: James Gray

Produced by: Donna Gigliotti, James Gray, Anthony Katagas
Written by: James Gray, Ric Menello

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

As seen at AFI Fest 2008:

     While writer/director James Gray’s ability to craft distinct moods and tones was readily apparent in 2007’s We Own the Night, I would’ve never guessed from watching that dirty-cop flick that Gray’s next feature, Two Lovers, would be the poignant experience that it is. Told from the distant, but nonetheless intimate perspective of the introverted, but nonetheless charismatic Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), who rebounds from a failed engagement by falling in love with two different women (Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw), the movie is erotic and unpredictable—often at the same time.

     The titular lovers that Leonard finds himself almost uncontrollably pursuing couldn’t be more different: Sandra (Shaw) is the daughter of a Jewish businessman working to merge his dry-cleaning company with Leonard’s father’s and Michelle (Paltrow) is his drug-addled upstairs-neighbor who’s quietly seeing a married corporate-hack out of a subconscious need for chaos. Leonard is trapped in the middle; he still hasn’t fully recovered from his failed previous relationship and thus he allows the whims of the two women—Sandra is obsessed with him and Michelle texts him late at night when she feels lustful—to influence him to an unhealthy extent. And despite the fact that Leonard is rather reserved through it all, the viewer feels a deep bond with him – his frustrations, passions, confusions, regrets, longings. All the while, Leonard experiences a quietly complex relationship with his parents (Moni Moshonov and Isabella Rossellini), who are the ones who first introduce him to Sandra and would like to see him marry her but silently realize that Michelle is electrifying his existence.

     Much of the movie’s poignancy rests in the performances of Phoenix, who crafts a multi-dimensional man out of a sparingly written character without so much as hinting at his burgeoning (?) rap career, and Paltrow and Shaw, both of whom lure the viewer in just as they do Leonard. But all of the emotions are anchored by Gray’s deft direction, which makes Two Lovers more complex than its simple love-triangle might let on. Each time Leonard shifts back and forth between the two women, substantive character-development is achieved. Gray’s structure also maintains a sense of suspense that enhances the story: because the viewer doesn’t know which of the two women Leonard will ultimately be with—if he ends up with anyone at all—they are able to feel the angst involved in his constantly switching mindset. In this fusion of compelling acting and skillful filmmaking, Two Lovers emerges a must-see.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 11.10.2008

Screened on: 11.6.2008 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.


Two Lovers is rated R and runs 110 minutes.

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