Phoenix leaves us with the brilliant “Two Lovers”


Rated R: 1 hour 50 minutes : Magnolia Pictures

Writer/director James Gray has developed such a strong working relationship with actor Joaquin Phoenix over the last several years that it makes Phoenix’s recent decision to retire all the more baffling. They first started working together at the very beginning of the decade with The Yards, a solid drama that featured several strong performances and showed that Gray, who was then only his second film in, was a promising American filmmaker. Both Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg returned from The Yards for Gray’s next one, a “brothers on both sides of the law” project called We Own the Night, which had its strong moments and was overall recommendable but inevitably suffered from the retread material factor. Still, it was evident that Gray could possibly have a strong piece of work up his sleeve in the near future, and with the release of this year’s Two Lovers, we have gotten just that.

Phoenix plays Leonard, a man who is clearly devastated by the breaking of ties with a longtime love, and out of concern that he could physically and mentally deteriorate he moves back in with his family at their request.  He spends little time outside the confines of his apartment complex, sheltering himself other than when he’s working at his father’s dry-cleaning business. Haunted by the lingering reminders of a past happiness, he’s only made into a more damaged soul as the days turn into weeks, then months into years. We are introduced to Leonard at a peculiar time in his life; while under the close supervision of his caring parents (and especially his mother, played beautifully by Isabella Rosellini) he is thrown into the middle of a love triangle that he will ultimately create for himself. Just as he is introduced to Sandra, the daughter of the wealthy family that plan to buy out his father’s dry-cleaning business, he becomes infatuated with Michelle, a vulnerable but out-of-his-league woman that lives on a higher floor at the same complex. Leonard’s mental state is already at a point to where he cannot find a level-headed way to deal with life, so when he decides to juggle between two entirely different women and romantic situations, there can only be dismantling in his future. Phoenix goes above and beyond with the character, finding all the right subtle notes and giving a brilliant performance. If this truly is a send-off to his short acting career, then at least he’s done it with his most seasoned and masterful portrayal yet.

Vinessa Shaw plays Sandra, the woman who Leonard’s parents want so badly to see him settle down with. Sandra has a real care for his feeligns and understands what he is going through, and Shaw plays the part very nicely. Hopefully we get to see her around more often in significant roles. Giving another fine performance and only adding to her versatility is Gwyneth Paltrow, as the torn-apart, beautiful, and needy Michelle, whose affair with a wealthy businessman (played by the small role journeyman, Elias Koteas) has led her down a path of mental fatigue, so she finds herself latching onto Leonard more and more for close, genuine comfort. Gray and Phoenix have finally given us what we knew they had in them – a wonderful, wounded, flawless piece of work that feels fresh all around. This is definitely one of the best films I’ve seen throughout the first seven months of the year.


Joaquin Phoenix
Gwyneth Paltrow
Vinessa Shaw
Isabella Rosellini
Moni Moshonov
Elias Koteas
Written by
James Gray
Ric Menello
Directed by
James Gray

Why, Joaquin? Why?


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2 Responses to “Phoenix leaves us with the brilliant “Two Lovers””

  1. mcarteratthemovies Says:

    I’m awaiting “Two Lovers” to arrive in my mailbox as we speak. I am a HUGE Joaquin Phoenix fan (see, and I am so excited to see what magic he weaves in this one, reported to be his last film. Surely he can’t leave us fans hanging? Sigh. Why do I always fall for the crazy ones?

  2. Ferguson Says:

    He is incredible in this film. I consider it his best performance. THERE IS NO WAY HE IS DONE. This is all a big hoax.

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