Arts » Arts Stories & Interviews

Two Lovers

Two Lovers
Director: James Gray
Screenwriter: James Gray
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, Samantha Ivers
Release Date: 2009-02-25
Rated: R
Genre: Film

Any press for this film is going to focus on Joaquin Phoenix’s bushy beard and Andy Kaufman act, and that’s kind of a shame, though the title is lame and the plot sounds much less interesting than watching a celebrity pretend to melt down. Leonard (Phoenix), a heartbroken law-school dropout, has moved back in with his parents and taken a delivery-boy position at the family dry-cleaning business. There he meets and begins cultivating relationships with (wait for it) two lovers — Michelle (Paltrow), a sort of shady chick who’s dating a married lawyer, and Sandra (Shaw), the giving and considerate daughter of a dry cleaner, whom Leonard’s parents, hoping for a sad joining-of-the-kingdoms dry-cleaning merger, absolutely love. You think you know where this is going, and you very probably do.

The idea of an awkward dry-cleaning delivery boy who still lives at home struggling to decide whether to sleep with Gwyneth Paltrow or Vinessa Shaw is ridiculous, but what doesn’t translate on paper is Phoenix’s moderately impressive performance. Leonard prefers Michelle for more than just her unobtainability or the rebellion she represents against the elderly parents he catches listening at his door. Leonard has problems (he’s first introduced jumping off of a bridge, and his wrists are visibly scarred; he only attempts suicide by Hollywood cliché), problems Michelle is too self-involved to notice, but that Sandra wants to solve. “I understand you,” she says upon seeing those scars. “I want to take care of you.” To Michelle, though, Leonard appears to have his shit together. “You’re one of those reader guys,” she says, mistaking his awkward shyness for intelligence and his strangeness for creativity.

As Phoenix plays it, Leonard’s pitiful and predictable romantic dilemma is less about love than about the version of himself he is willing to accept — the troubled, socially retarded sad sack, or the tortured artist. It’s a better-than-decent performance that might be worth more discussion if Phoenix weren’t currently upstaging himself on YouTube.


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