I, for one, was not upset when Joaquin Phoenix announced his recent retirement from acting to focus on some sort of freestyle rap career. While being touted as one of the greatest actors of his generation by highly esteemed critics such as Rollingstone’s Peter Travers, he’s managed to display an extremely high level of douchebaggery. And if this does turn out to be a publicity stunt engineered by Joaquin himself, Casey Affleck, and Joaquin’s freaky sister, he will have forever proven that he is a DB. I wasn’t upset that I wouldn’t see Mr. Phoenix filling up the silver screen with movies like Reservation Road and Ladder 49. I wasn’t upset, until I saw Two Lovers. The film itself is outrageously good, but his performance was outstanding.
Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, a troubled young Jew staying with his immigrant parents in Brighton Beach. After his fiance left him a few years back due to genetic conflicts (seriously, they weren’t genetically compatible), he tried to commit suicide, and after a short hospital stay, he was left to the care of his parents Reuben (Moni Moshonov) and Ruth (Isabella Rossellini). Life isn’t looking too great for Leonard. Reuben is looking to sell his dry cleaning business to a chain, who’s owner happens to be the father of an innocent and sincere (and Jewish) looker (Vinessa Shaw). The two fall into a comfortable relationship. However, a chance meeting with his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) raises doubts about how sure he is in his relationship. Michelle is involved with a prominent New York lawyer who claims he’ll eventually leave his family for her, but it’s not looking too good for her either.
The film is seriously stylish. Camera angles, fantastic shooting locales, perfectly paired background music give the story a feel that’s just right. The dialogue isn’t particularly witty, but leaves plenty of room for realism that will haunt you in every relationship you have now, or ever. Gwyneth Paltrow finally makes a good career move, moving away from those quirky girl roles she’s been stuck in like Running With Scissors. Shaw is playing a minor role, but steals all the attention in the screen time she’s given. It’s nice to see a pleasantly-aged Rossellini in a role that doesn’t involved her masturbating in front of Dennis Hopper. The star of the show, however, is Joaquin, whose performance is pitch perfect in every aspect.
James Gray wrote and directed Two Lovers. This is his first film since he wrote and directed 2007′s We Own the Night (yawn). His competence is astounding, managing to force his viewers to emote whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Despite the shitty title, the offensive reputation of the lead, and the likelihood you’ll have to venture into an art house theater, please, make the effort to see this, you won’t be disappointed.