Saturday, April 18, 2009

Two Lovers

The sad thing about Two Lovers is that the film has been overshadowed by the recent antics of Joaquin Phoenix. I don't know if he is putting us on or is serious about this whole rap career change. It's a shame if it's true because he's such a soulful, interesting actor. For selfish reasons, I'd prefer he stick to acting. Hip hop for Joaquin? No thanks.

Two Lovers. Director James Gray sets all his films in the boroughs of New York City (this is #4) and he loves to ratchet up the tone and nuance in full 1970s mode. That's good. If a film hints of the '70s, I'm all for it. Gray's films are so washed in that era he might want to try and break away from that in the future just to do something different. Then again, why should he? Making films that feel as if they dropped out of that decade is a compliment and more directors should do the same so I hope he just keeps on making these sorts of films.

Phoenix plays Leonard, a mumbling, slightly damaged young man living with his parents, working in the family dry cleaning store and pining for a lost love. He goes from no romance to two women in the span of a couple of days--the safe choice (Vinessa Shaw) or the unhinged choice (Gwyneth Paltrow). What is good for Leonard might not be the direction he chooses to go as he's torn between the two women--it's hard to resist the dangerous path of the heart sometimes.

The two women represent a life change too. One wil make him a predictable wife and life connected to his family; one offers the complete unknown and escape from the world around him. Leonard is torn. Gray let's us see both sides of the romantic coin and we see and feel what Leonard has to dicipher between--the security or the passion.

Phoenix delivers a riveting, warm, tender, raw and oddly comical performance. It's hard to not watch him on screen. If this is his last role--and as I said, I'm hoping it's not--then he's ending it on a high note. I wish Paltrow was not in this though. Granted, I'm not a fan but I found her distracting in such a small, intimate story. I loved watching Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshona as Leonard's parents as they solidify a great ensemble cast.

James Gray's Two Lovers is another trip for him into "1970s" storytelling. It's honest, deceptively simple in its construction and very direct. I admire Gray for his stubborn adherence to this style--he will not give up! It makes for bleak downers but for films this well crafted and acted, those are not negative traits at all. Gray's next film is The Lost City of Z, an adventure drama set around the search for lost explorers so we'll get to see if he can step out of the NYC box.

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