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Two Lovers (DVD Review)

31 May, 2009 By: Billy Gil

Two Lovers

Prebook 6/2/09; Street 6/30/09
Box Office $3.1 million
$26.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language, some sexuality and brief drug use.

Stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Joaquin Phoenix, Vinessa Shaw.

Two Lovers is the kind of dark, mature romantic drama one just doesn’t see very often anymore. So, naturally, film audiences stayed away; all the better reason to catch this excellent film on DVD.

Two Lovers follows Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), a strange bird living with his parents in Brooklyn. The film begins with Leonard jumping into the Hudson River and being rescued by strangers, to whom he barely offers a weak “thanks.” It’s a loud gesture that gets viewers to pay attention, but the rest of Two Lovers is a quieter affair, with Phoenix allowing Leonard’s troubled and sensitive nature to play out naturally.

Meanwhile, Leonard’s parents, excellently underplayed by Moni Moshonov and Isabella Rossellini, are hoping the family dry-cleaning business will be bought by friends, and they are hoping Leonard will connect with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), who takes a keen interest in Leonard’s black-and-white photography.

However, things change when the family’s beautiful new neighbor, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), comes in for a visit while her volatile father screams upstairs. Leonard is immediately taken with Michelle, and it’s not hard to see why, as Paltrow perfectly draws Michelle as a good-intentioned but ultimately fickle and impossible girl who can’t help but take advantage of Leonard.

Although Two Lovers’ pacing can drag at times, it refreshingly allows its characters to breathe and doesn’t allow them to fall into easy characterization. It’s much more akin to a French film, with subtle bleak underbelly and well-made messages about both the dangers of allowing others to decide happiness for you and also of pursuing those who are out of our reach.

Though the acting is strong all-around, the film belongs to Phoenix. With the fiasco of a heavily bearded and erratic Phoenix appearing on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” it may have been easy to forget what a brilliant actor he is. His downtrodden, mumble-mouthed and heartbreaking Leonard alone is worth the price of admission.

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