Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Two Lovers" - REVIEW

There are times in actors' lives when their personal lives sometimes skew criticism of their performances (it certainly happened to Lindsay Lohan a few years ago). The performer most recently in danger of this unfortunate occurrence is the versatile yet increasingly bizarre Joaquin Phoenix, who made headlines with his awkward interview on Letterman a few weeks ago (the messy hair and scraggly beard didn't help matters at all). I hope, though, that this doesn't turn people away from seeing James Gray's "Two Lovers", a quiet, slow-burning chamber piece that's light on direct action but heavy on character study and good acting. Phoenix plays Leonard, a slightly goofy yet charismatic man who lives with his parents and works at his father's dry-cleaning business. As the movie opens we see Leonard trying to drown himself. When he returns home he tells his worried mother (Isabella Rossellini) that he just "accidentally" fell into the bay, but she obviously knows better; he's tried to do this before. In a not-so-secret attempt to give Leonard some emotional stability, Leonard is introduced to Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw), a soft spoken, gentle brunette who seems to take a liking to Leonard. Only a few weeks later however, Leonard has a run in with upstairs neighbor Michele (Gwyneth Paltrow), a slightly livlier-yet-also-troubled blonde, who becomes friends with Leonard instantly and soon begins to take him out dancing, proclaiming him to be her new best friend. The introduction of the "two lovers" doesn't take up too much time, and the remainder of the 100 minute film is spent simply exploring Leonard's relationship with gentle Sandra and exciting-yet-flighty Michele, with a balance of quiet drama and a surprising amount of light humor. Phoenix excels as Leonard, even when his diction occaisionally makes him hard to fully understand, while Shaw and Paltrow work well as the wildly different love interests. And while it unfolds languidly, it never drags, thanks to the strength of the understated performances. It's a delicate little film that deserves to be seen, especially if you're having trouble getting that Letterman interview out of your head....

Grade: B/B+

Number of 2009 films seen: 5

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