Joaquin Phoenix's walk away from the movie set and into the recording studio has been less than subtle, even obnoxious (refer to his appearance on The Late Show). But the bearded introvert's curtain call is worthy of a standing ovation.
Writer/director James Gray's Two Lovers is a classic romantic dilemma of a man (Phoenix) struggling between two women, one an unrequited love and the other a safe and stable partner. Leonard, who has bipolar disorder, is living with his parents (Moni Moshonov and Isabella Rossellini, both stellar in their roles) after a failed relationship drove him to attempt suicide. His father, the owner of a dry-cleaning business, is negotiating the sale of his shop.
Over dinner one evening, Leonard is introduced to the prospective buyer's daughter, Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), who has asked to meet him after seeing him helping out at his father's store. All is well until Leonard hears a man verbally abusing a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) down the hall from his apartment. Leonard offers his home as a retreat and is instantly enamored of his neighbor Michelle.
Unaware of her effect on him, Michelle seeks safety from her chaotic love life in Leonard. As Leonard falls dangerously in love with his neighbor, Sandra vies for his affection, ignorant of his feelings for Michelle.
Phoenix is devastating as Leonard. His awkward tendencies and vulnerability solicit sympathy, while his humor instills a confidence that elevates him to more than just a pathetic homebody.
Paltrow delivers yet another performance as a self-destructive, disillusioned woman-a role with which she has become synonymous. Balancing likability and her status as an emotional disaster, Paltrow elicits pity from the audience.
Almost as tragic as Phoenix's hip-hop career, Two Lovers is a calamitous film that will leave you heartbroken.