Two Lovers

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Two Lovers
With the likes of ‘The Yards’ and ‘We Own the Night’, James Gray has almost been American cinema’s next big thing for a while. His films are crafted with seriousness, acted with intent, and take great care over the expressive ramifications of their rich colour palette. This much is true of his latest offering, which is unfortunately also inhibited by its predecessors’ emotional opacity.

If this really is his acting swansong, Joaquin Phoenix, Gray’s signature performer, shows no lack of commitment as a troubled young man caught between two very different women. On the rebound from a breakdown, Phoenix’s Leonard Kraditor finds himself back with his parents in Brighton Beach, where his dry-cleaner dad is soon trying to pair him off with a colleague’s daughter (Vanessa Shaw). While there’s a spark between them, Phoenix is also distracted by an attractive neighbour (Gwyneth Paltrow, effectively cast against type), whose nearby apartment is paid for by her wealthy married lover.

It’s a scenario ripe for comedy, yet Gray approaches it with characteristic gravitas (inspired by Dostoyevsky’s ‘White Nights’), examining the destructive romantic myth of perfect fulfilment. Obviously, kindly Shaw wants to look after still-hurting Phoenix, whereas messed-up Paltrow stirs his own nurturing instincts, each woman providing what the other cannot. Fair enough as a conceit, but in the real world you can’t imagine either of these women giving such a creepy, constipated character a second glance. Gray’s direction lovingly toys with images of containment and release, effectively playing out the drama in visual terms – but we never really feel it.

By: Trevor Johnston


Release details

Release date: Friday March 27 2009
Duration: 110 mins

Cast and crew

Director: James Gray
Screenwriter: James Gray, Ric Menello
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix
Gwyneth Paltrow
Vinessa Shaw
Moni Moshonov
Isabella Rossellini
John Ortiz
Bob Ari
Julie Budd
Elias Koteas
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Steve Kusheloff

Re: "...a scenario ripe for comedy..." Are you nuts? Nothing about this movie was funny, or should have been. It was extremely well done, but very uncomfortable to watch because Phoenix did such a great job. you couldn't help but feel a great sense of empathy for his character.


What a depressing film. Don't waste 2 hours of your life. My wife chose it and spent the rest of the night apologising. Cant imagine its going to sell many tickets.


I don't think his acting was moronic, he was just playing a slightly moronic character. I thought it was an engaging exploration of the dynamics of romantic obsession, whether it be loneliness, longing, lust, alienation or anxiety. Enjoyed it but one of those films you probably get more out of when you watch it a second time.


I’m not going to say that the movie had a profound or a life changing impact on me but yes, I enjoyed it although at first I found JP’s acting of the dysfunctional type getting a little bit under my skin. Two lovers is a movie that should not really be viewed from a realistic perspective. Sure enough, those characters are probably never to be found in real life and I cannot imagine of a sane, good-looking female becoming enchanted by the fact that a strange guy asked his mother to dance with him while at his father dry cleaner, but then again that’s what’s good about a film: it’s a work of fiction and as such it’s up to the audience to decide to cross the fine line between reality & empathy, abstraction & fiction. I found the movie an interesting attempt to explain romantic love or at least the notions associated with it. The pain, the misleading interpretations of actions and words, the subjective point of view making people believe what they need to believe, the vulnerability and the insecurity – the film touches on all the above in a brave but quiet, almost esoteric way. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece and it has no claims to be one but it ends in a rather tragic and bittersweet way, painfully human, so in the end it worked for me.