Gwyneth Paltrow as Michelle and Joaquin Phoenix as Leonard in James Gray's drama "Two Lovers", which expanded its theatrical release today to numerous
U.S. cities including San Francisco, at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.  (Photo: Magnolia Pictures)

Two Lovers

In Brooklyn It's Last Chance Lenny, With Eyes Wide Shut
By Omar P.L. Moore/
Friday, February 27, 2009     

Ignoring recent events surrounding Joaquin Phoenix, in "Two Lovers" the actor brings one of his more nuanced performances, the last of his acting career.  The two-time Academy Award nominee is at his devilish best in a film that plays much more like a grim comedy than a drama.  Leonard Kraditor (Mr. Phoenix) is emotionally distraught, literally in the deep end as the film begins, a man still living with his cloying and meddling Jewish parents Ruth and Reuben (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Monshonov) in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York, with a job in his father's dry cleaning business.  Still devastated after the loss of his fiance, Leonard is encouraged to fall in love with a woman of his faith, Sandra (Vinessa Shaw).  As luck (or un-luck) would have it, there happens to a second woman, one within the same apartment complex across from Lenny's bedroom window who presents an irresistible dilemma for him.  Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) however, has her own set of problems. 

Director James Gray shows his admiration for Stanley Kubrick (who passed away ten years ago next month,) not only with a poster of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" but an additional homage to Mr. Kubrick's final film "Eyes Wide Shut", in which Miss Shaw also appeared.  There the actress played a prostitute who lured Tom Cruise into a potential adulterous encounter.  Here Miss Shaw flickers with warmth and wisdom while displaying the girl-not-so-next-door acuity, although often her smile slyly conveys a you-know-what-you-want-stop-playing-games-with-me demeanor.  "Eyes Wide Shut" is evoked in several other scenes, including a near kiss of one character by another (recall the scene in the morgue with Mr. Cruise's Bill Harford character) and with the continual ringing of cell phones at the most inopportune (or opportune) moments.  In Mr. Kubrick's film the phones were interventions at times of would-be philandering opportunities.

All of this is to say that "Two Lovers", which opened today at the Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco among other places, is definitely worth all the melancholy and realism one can muster.  The anti-hero of love conquers a mountain or two and when trials and tribulations make life worth escaping from you can count on the devil's candy to rear its head from the depths.  There is a shot or two recalling Hitchcock's "Vertigo" as well.  Stylistic flourishes however don't intrude on a compelling and riveting story (screenplay by Mr. Gray and Richard Menello), which sees its participants swinging back and forth on love's uncertain pendulum.  Lenny isn't the only character caught between a rock and a hard place, but he's the one that seems to grow the least as a result of all his troubles.  Ms. Paltrow manages to be likable playing a somewhat unlikable character.  Ms. Rossellini displays the earthiness and appeal that makes her an enduring film legend and there are other performances that make the film an unnerving spectacle of raw emotion and heartbreak with an ending that may or may not be tailor-made for that old devil called love.

With: Bob Ari, Elias Koteas, Julie Budd, Samantha Ivers, Anne Joyce and Jeanine Serralles.

"Two Lovers" opened earlier this month in New York and Los Angeles and other various select U.S. cities.  The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language, some sexuality and brief drug use.  The film's running time is one hour and 50 minutes. YouTube Review Of "Two Lovers" (two minutes and two seconds)


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