‘Two Lovers’ – One conflicted Casanova

‘Two Lovers’ – One conflicted Casanova


Who knew Joaquin Phoenix was cinematic catnip for the ladies?

“Two Lovers,” the drama which might mark the end of Phoenix’s acting career should his rap music take off, casts the mercurial Oscar nominee as a bipolar manchild caught between two women.

Phoenix brings many gifts to the big screen, but unquenchable sex appeal isn’t one of them. Especially when’s he’s playing the kind of bedraggled figure he inhabits here.

The film, available June 30 on DVD, casts Phoenix as Leonard, a sad sack who tries to commit suicide as the story opens.

He survives and returns home where his mother and father fret over his every move. Leonard has issues, from a soul-crushing career at his father’s dry cleaner business to remorse over the end of his last relationship.

Enter Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of another dry cleaning operator. She’s instantly smitten with Leonard, and audiences will struggle to see why. He’s barely articulate, lives in a pigsty of a room and can’t seem to rally the effort to keep his head held aloft.

What’s not to love?

two-lovers-box-artBut Leonard also meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), a troubled soul trying to decide if she should stay with her boyfriend (Elias Koteas) even though he’s married.

Leonard pines for the damaged Michelle, but life would be so much easier if he fell in love with Sandra.

The inexplicable nature of the women’s attraction to Leonard is the movie’s 800-pound gorilla. Every other element more or less falls beautifully in place. The actors deliver bruised, emotionally connected performances, and the story zigs just when you expect it will zag.

“Two Lovers” strength lies in its unpredictability – and the bold choice to let Leonard behave in a way that rarely comforts the audience. He’s wounded, to be sure, but he’s also criminally selfish. Phoenix refuses to dial back those elements, which gives the movie a coiled intensity.

Yet he’s still not right for the part. Another actor, one with a reservoir of charisma and smoldering appeal, could have made Leonard’s “Two Lovers” make a whole lot more sense.

(Photo: Joaquin Phoenix says his performance in “Two Lovers” marks the end of his acting career.)

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tink in CaliNo Gravatar June 25, 2009 at 3:08 pm

“Two Lovers,” the drama which might mark the end of Phoenix’s acting career should his rap music take off, ”

Did you type that with a straight face? Funniest sentence I have read all week!

JimmyCNo Gravatar June 25, 2009 at 3:13 pm

“Phoenix brings many gifts to the big screen, but unquenchable sex appeal isn’t one of them.”

This is Hollywood we’re talking about, not the real world. The same Hollywood in which Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn are both madly in love with Woody Allen.

kathyNo Gravatar March 25, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Joaquin is a revelation in this role and the attraction he holds for these ladies is obvious. He has an honest child-like soul, brooding good looks and sweetness of spirit. Leonard is haunted by love, and in Joaquin’s performance we see how and why. In spite of his perceived selfishness (in his quest for true love), his sensitivity, depth and quirky sense of humor shine through. In the real world, and even the screen world, those attributes mean much more than chiseled features and surface charisma. There are sensitive people in this world, with true artistic temperament and a tendency to throw themselves into what they love. The fact that you think his character is a loser says more about your frat boy mentality than anything else. In a world of bimbos and shallow nimrods, Joaquin’s Leonard may seem confused and tormented, but due to Joaquin’s brilliant acting, a subtle, real and strangely sympathetic character emerges. In the hands of a lesser actor, or some beefcake chick magnet you appear to think would have been better cast, the movie would never have worked. I think he was perfectly cast and his performance was pitch perfect. I hope he returns to acting as I can’t think of many other actors that can hold a candle to him. He is brilliant.

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