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Two Lovers

Another Loser Saves the Day

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Apparently this is Joaquin Phoenix’s last movie. I hope that’s not true, but if it is, he’s going out on a high note. Two Lovers isn’t a great film, but it gets pretty damn close. The plot sounds generic and on the surface it is -- guy meets two girls and can’t decide between the two. However, director and writer James Gray (We Own the Night) does an excellent job of shedding new light on the subject.

Leonard (Phoenix) is living at home following some sort of mental breakdown. As he’s trying to get his life together amid suicide attempts and dabbling in amateur photography, he suddenly meets two women. First there’s Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of the man who wants to buy Leonard’s father’s dry cleaning business. It’s a romance both families push and it cliques. But just as soon as it does, Leonard meets his new neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). Whereas Sandra is sweet, Michelle has an edge. Again, it veers towards the overdone and cliché, but Gray is able to keep it engaging.

Without a doubt, the entire movie is held on the shoulders of Joaquin Phoenix. While it may not be his best film, it is certainly his best performance. Leonard’s weird and he’s different, but he’s extremely relatable. He’s not particularly shy, nor does he come off crazy -- he’s just a tad off, but not enough for most of the world to notice. Phoenix completely understands this about his character and plays it fantastically.

Paltrow plays Michelle in much the same way. She’s a very realistic person. She’s the girl who’s involved with a married man, who is constantly moving and yet everyone is drawn to her. She has a sense of urgency to her that’s irresistible. It’s great to see Paltrow playing such a tortured character because it reminds me of what a truly great actress she is.

Gray creates a great character piece. The plot isn’t revolutionary, but the characters are. Even Vinessa Shaw is perfect as Sandra, a normal, yet wonderful woman. She has no big surprises, she’s close with her family but she has the stability in her life that Michelle doesn’t. And that difference is what tortures Leonard. Sure Sandra is great, but his life is mapped out with her. Not so with Michelle, but who knows where that will end up? These three actors know their characters inside and out and are able to make them more than just an outline -- they really bring the story to life.