From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two Lovers - B-

Rated R for language, some sexuality and brief drug use, 110 minutes

Well-acted “Two Lovers” is a peculiar romantic piece

There’s a brief moment in the new film “Two Lovers” in which Joaquin Phoenix’s character attempts to rap. It’s a humorous, ironic moment of art imitating life and one of the few moments in this divisive film that audiences will remember (in addition to Ben Stiller’s recent Oscar telecast imitation of Joaquin’s “Late Show” appearance). People will love or hate “Two Lovers,” a superbly acted but peculiar, distant film that lacks passion in its statements on love and romance. And for the record, the intense, methodical performance from Phoenix is the real reason to see the film, and unlike his probable career change, isn’t a joke.

The New York City set “Two Lovers” explores a love triangle involving thirty-something Leonard Kraditor, a bipolar man coming off a bad break-up and who had to move back in with his Israeli parents, Reuben and Ruth (Moni Moshonov and Isabella Rossellini), owners of a successful local dry cleaners. The mentally unstable, peculiar Leonard becomes involved with two women at the same time, Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw), a pretty but bland Jewish girl whose father is becomes a business partner to Leonard’s, and the flighty Michelle (Gweneth Paltrow), a pretty but unstable blond and neighbor to Leonard. Michelle, an ex-drug addict, is also involved with her boss, a scummy, married attorney named Ronald (Elias Koteas). Sandra’s interested in Leonard but Leonard’s only truly interested in Michelle, who’s truly only interested in herself.

“Two Lovers” is an odd romantic triangle played out in peculiar fashion, and is difficult to connect to or have any sympathy with the main characters. It lacks honesty in its story, though it’s strangely appealing with Phoenix’s brilliant, skillful performance as the mentally unstable Leonard. He gives a pitch-perfect, studied performance and shades Leonard with the perfect amount of instability, though the performance still keeps the audience at a safe distance. James Gray, who directed Phoenix before in “The Yards” and “We Own the Night,” and seemingly knows him well, competently directs “Two Lovers” though his script is more problematic. The story lacks genuine resonance or any relevant messages about romance and love, and seems intent on “settling” for whoever is left. Leonard must choose, but does he choose the right one?

The women in “Two Lovers” are a mixed bag. Shaw is warm in a greatly underwritten (and really, nonessential) role. Paltrow is superb as the flaky Michelle, and while the film really belongs to her and Joaquin, their relationship as written by director Gray, lacks passion, with only one real heated scene of attachment. Rossellini, resembling her mother Ingrid Bergman more as she ages, shines in a small role as Leonard’s loving, concerned mother.

“Two Lovers” is a peculiar, distant romantic film made better by Joaquin’s studied, intense performance. It doesn’t have a wide appeal yet some will go for the very reason of that odd recent Letterman appearance. My hope is he’ll realize he has a much better future ahead of him in acting than in music.