Two Lovers

| March 10, 2009

A love story set in Brooklyn, NY spins a very familiar tale of a woman who loves a man, who loves another woman, who loves another man, who appears to love his wife. Of course, none of the assembled characters love each other, and isn’t that a story we have heard once or twice before? Fortunately, a well-appointed leading actor manages to lift this bleak and oft-told premise to a higher level of intrigue. Two Lovers, directed and co-written by James Gray, is simply a relatable story of unrequited love.
Joaquin Phoenix is Leonard, an offbeat, somewhat reclusive, 30-something man who lives in his parents’ apartment. Leonard leads a dull, forlorn, existence until the week he meets two potential love interests – two striking women who seemingly drop out of the clear blue Brooklyn sky into his monotonous and idle world. The two female candidates are Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Sandra (Vinessa Shaw). Passionate and frenetic Michelle is the neighbor whose emotional universe revolves around an affair she is having with her married boss. Brimming with an energy that would seem irresistible to a man numbed of feeling, Michelle becomes a world unto herself in Leonard’s mind. Michelle, perhaps, suggests that maybe there is another way beyond the world Leonard had previously comprehended. Sandra, however, is the logical choice for a companion – sweet and unpresuming, yet she lacks a vital lust for anything more than the obvious and practical life.
I suppose Leonard’s story tells the same one we all have known or should be lucky enough to experience in our lives: the onslaught and nature of love can be powerful enough to spark a change in the most melancholy of hearts. Paltrow seems to lack enough natural charm and “je ne sais quoi” to embody a Michelle that is irresistible to the audience, as much so as she is to Leonard. Phoenix is the standout performance amongst able actors, single-handedly redeeming a plot that has very little to say that has not been said, or shown before in more moving films of similar subject matter.
Probably not a film that will be remembered for years to come, Two Lovers has its’ moments of gripping honesty, in its pursuit of portraying the tragic and compelling nature that a deep love can have on a lost soul. As Michelle lays in bed, after suffering the grief of her own loss, she asks Leonard to write something on her arm – a tactic her grandmother would use to soothe her into falling asleep as a child. It’s a moving moment that is unique in a sequence of scenes that seem to lack a depth gripping enough to surpass the quality of just another ordinary love story.

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