Two Lovers

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Two Lovers

Release Date: Feb. 13
Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray and Ric Menello
Cinematographer: Marco Onorato
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, John Ortiz
Studio/Run Time: Magnolia Pictures, 110 mins.

When Two Lovers begins, Leonard Kraditor’s (Joaquin Phoenix) parents are entering a business relationship with the Cohen family, which his parents see as an opportunity to rekindle his interest in love and life.Leonard’s last relationship ended disastrously, which left him heartbroken and suicidal.Except while he easily charms his way into Sandra Cohen’s (Vinessa Shaw) heart, he finds himself falling for the more exciting neighbor down the hall, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow).It becomes a love triangle, with Leonard’s heart working against his head and the well being of his family.

The plot is pure melodrama, but writer-director James Gray does does his best to avoid drifting down the easy road of sentimentality.A lot of this comes from the tightness of the script.Its slow twists and turns feel alarmingly real, without ever having any pure feel-good scenes.The audience goes from an unpleasant love scene to an unpleasant family scene, with no easy answer as to whether Leonard’s making the right decisions.Two Lovers builds to an earned, climactic ending that can be read as horrifying or lovely, but has a complexity that denies reduction into typical happy/sad ending.

The other aspect that keeps Two Lovers’ clichés from overwhelming the film is its nuanced performances.Phoenix’s mumbling, working-class charm works doubt into his boasts and creates a figure believably stuck between a rock and a hard place.His and the rest of the cast’s age also adds a wistful sense to the film.If the same story was unfolding for college students, the film would be trifling, but between the cast’s somewhat weathered performances and unsettling cinematography, Gray creates the sense that this is perhaps the last chance at love or families for everyone in the film.

From this deceptively simple plot, then, Gray’s film becomes something far more fascinating and intimate than a mere summary can supply.Mature melodramas like this have been out of fashion for years, in fact, perhaps always, which is why so often it’s necessary to seek out foreign films for this kind of story done right. Two Lovers isn’t a particularly grand gesture, but in the tradition of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen, its stakes are personal yet universally human.

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