Friday, February 13, 2009

Review - Two Lovers

A New York romance that follows Leonard, a bipolar bachelor who is torn between two women. Wanting the best for their son, Leonards parents introduce him to an associate's daughter Sandra, that they believe to be perfect for him. Meanwhile, Leonards also meets Michelle, a unpredictable new neighbor, who is involved with a married man. Leonards struggles to please his parents, Michelle and Sandra, while also trying to find himself.

Written and directed James Gray "Two Lovers" magnifies Leonard's heartsick story with an oustanding performance by Joaquin Phoenix, brilliant storytelling and a score that helps to set the overall melancholy mood. "Two Lovers" opens with a somber mood and slowly builds into a very engaging romantic tale set with a grey background of Brooklyn and Brighton Beach during the winter. The character development Gray has written is flawless, however not all of the actors involved pull their weight with the disconsolate 110 minute story.

Gwyneth Paltrow unfortunately is the weak link in the very strong film. While she definately looks the part, her performance throughout is uninspiring and takes away from the dramatic moments between her and Phoenix. The emotional swings that Paltrow's character must take seem forced and unnatural. So much so, the viewer finds themselves quickly hoping that Leopnard detaches himself from the volatile and destructive female finding happiness with Sandra.

Now that the negative is out of the way, Joaquin Phoenix is completely engrossing throughout "Two Lovers". His character, being bipolar, has a wide range of emotions to convey and Phoenix pulls it off in routine fashion. Phoenix portrays Leonard with a "at a moments notice" anxeity that keeps the viewer captured in his story. All of Leonard's emotinal extremes are both amusing and sorrow filled and Joaquin Phoenix captures them all without a blemish. This is the esteemed actor's third film with James Gray and by far his best performance under the director. The somber nature to the film is matched with the understanding that "Two Lovers" is Joaquin Phoenix's last film. Phoenix who has stated, that he has quit acting to pursue his love of music, will no longer grace the screen. If Phoenix does in fact not return to acting, at least he went out with a marvelous role in a saddened film.

Leonard's second lover Sandra, wonderfully played by Vinessa Shaw, really brings light and comfort into a otherwise low-spirited film. Shaw is a joy on screen and has the viewer pulling for her relationship with Leonard. Sandra represents everything that could be right for Leonard and she plays it beautifully. Her scenes shared with Phoenix warm the heart and are are true pleasure to watch. It should be noted that Isabella Rossellini delivers a magnetic performance as Leonard's mother, Ruth.

It shows that Phoenix and Gray have worked together before and the result is a perfectly written and performed film. Phoenix seems to have taken on a natural working relationship with Gray and the director uses Joaquin's talents to help create a emotional and moving story. James Gray also seems more suited for exploration of human emotion and compassion in a love story rather than his 2007 family cop drama We Own the Night, also starring Phoenix. Here in "Two Lovers" Gray develops a far superior tale of a lovesick male torn between two females. Gray who knew what he could get out of the talented Phoenix, most definately wrote to the actor's abilities and the result is gripping.