Two Lovers (2008)

Two Lovers is the latest film by James Gray, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw and Isabella Rossellini.

Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) just returned to his parents’ place after being hospitalised for a suicide attempt. His life is a mess, he is not done yet with the suicide option, he works at his parents’ drycleaning business and he just doesn’t really know what to do. His parents (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov) try to set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the sweet, good Jewish girl who knows of Leonard’s problems and wants to take care of him. At the same time, Leonard meets his new neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). Michelle is unstable and completely fascinating to Leonard, who falls in love with her.

Two Lovers is an excellent character study – as long as you don’t try to see the ending as happy [though I’m pretty sure that some people will and will be content with that]. It’s wonderfully told and just cemented my respect for James Gray as a filmmaker [whose Little Odessa I absolutely adore].

Leonard is a difficult character, both as a person to identify with and as a character to play. Joaquin Phoenix does an wonderful job in his portrayal – he really is spot on and infuses Leonard with a fragile charm that’s very interesting. Of course this is not only Phoenix’ doing, Leonard is also very well written. Obviously Gray and second writer Ric Menello knew what they were talking about when it comes to this kind of suicidal depression.

I also liked Gwyneth Paltrow’s and Vinessa Shaw’s performance [not to mention Isabella Rossellini] – and the script was also very good with them: It is completely understandable why and how their relationships with Leonard develop. It’s not only because he’s the main character as in so many other movies (mostly starring Michael Cera or Seth Rogen) and it’s not because Leonard is so awesome – it’s more intrinsically motivated.

The movie looks great and it takes its time with shots, which is nice. Gray gives his cast room and time to play. This gives this movie a certain calmness, yet it moves along at a pretty good pace and doesn’t become boring. And before you know it, you’re completely invested in Leonard and his development and it almost surprises you that you are.

I also liked that you could see it in a few ways: is Leonard in love with both Sandra and Michelle? And we could probably spend hours discussing who of the two women would have been right for him, if one of them would have been right for him at all or just if we believe the ending to be happy or not. To make a movie that is that ambiguous but that isn’t open-ended is an admirable feat.

Summarising: A fine little movie that does not deserve to have disappeared as it did.

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