James Gray’s Two Lovers revolves around the troubled Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix). Leonard has moved back into his childhood home to recover from his recent break up. In quick succession, two women enter Leonard’s life: Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), an entertaining and peculiar neighbor who transcends Leonard’s world and Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) a classy, traditional woman who is the daughter of a businessman attempting to purchase Leonard’s family business. Leonard becomes confused between desire and love and the story unfolds from there.
The performances in this film are what resonate with the audience the most. Joaquin Phoenix crafts his character from a dark place and displays great emotion in this role. His complicated past slowly unravels throughout the film and audiences become more and more aware of his emotional instability. Phoenix is truly a great performer; it is unfortunate that he has taken a recent ‘break’ from acting. Both of the female leads are strong as well. Vinessa Shaw’s performance is passionate and powerful. Her scenes with Phoenix are both romantic and realistic as well. Viewers can definitely identify with the dialogue between the two of them. Gwyneth Paltrow is not breaking new ground with her performance. However, her scenes are all remarkably interesting. Her character is deeply conflicted by her current relationship and the growing relationship with Leonard.
These great performances are a byproduct of James Gray’s script. The writing in this film has a delightful ambivalence to it. Ultimately, the audience is unsure of Leonard’s decision until the very end. The dialogue facilitates this realm of uncertainty that consumes Leonard’s life. The exchanges between Leonard and his parents convey this well. Gray’s direction is also quite strong. The film’s editing, shot selection and tone are all complimentary. There is one scene in particular that exemplifies this. Leonard is meeting with Michelle and her boyfriend (Elias Koteas) at a restaurant. As Leonard is waiting awkwardly and impatiently at the table, the camera slowly pulls back. Leonard is in the foreground sitting uncomfortably and behind him is a large mask. This is a brilliant artistic embodiment of the scene. The mask is portraying Leonard’s difficulty fitting into this new upper class environment as well as shrinking Leonard with its presence.
This film is a strong effort and is a product of an intelligent filmmaker. James Gray creates an interesting character piece with great performances. Two Lovers is worth watching.
Two Lovers is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film looks cold and drab and it should be. The emotional state of the characters and the tone of the film lend itself to this color scheme. The darks are dark and the greys are overcast. Overall, it is a great transfer and the film is able to showcase its tone very efficiently with the result being a satisfying visual experience.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound is solid. There are not too many issues with clarity of dialogue and the score is not deafening. Having said that, the score itself is beautiful, it flows very well and it is an enjoyable addition to the film. The mix accomplishes what it sets out to do and works with the film.
Commentary Track: Co-writer and director James Gray delivers an insightful commentary track. Gray goes over each scene in great detail and outlines his motivations for casting and also provides some moments of comedy. Gray’s intelligence is showcased to audiences and he provides an informative and detailed track.
Behind the Scenes: A typical featurette. It has some good interviews with the cast and crew.
Deleted Scenes: As an interesting wrinkle, the deleted scenes are all prefaced with a written quotation by James Gray. The quotations aptly describe why the scene was cut, who was in it etc…
HDNET: A Look at Two Lovers: Another piece surrounding the making of the film. It covers the same ground as the aforementioned featurette.
Photo Stills Gallery
Two Lovers exists in a familiar realm. The romantic drama has been explored multiple times and it is refreshing to see a filmmaker create something artistic and enjoyable using typically cliché material. It is a strong effort and worth watching.