After Leonard’s (Joaquin Phoenix) fiancé leaves him, he moves in with his well meaning parents, Ruth and Reuben Kraditor (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov) where he stays in his childhood bedroom. There, he spends his days working for his dad’s dry cleaning company as his parents keep a watchful eye over him since he’s made attempts to harm himself since his breakup. Leonard is tortured, shy, kind and aching to find his way through his past to a better future. “Two Lovers” does a wonderful job of capturing Leonard’s emotions as he’s faced with two women who represent for him to very different paths.
Reuben’s dry cleaning company is about to be bought out by Michael Cohen (Bob Ari). When the Cohen’s come over for dinner with the Kraditor family, they bring their daughter Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) who privately confesses to Leonard that she wanted to meet him after seeing him at the dry cleaners. Sandra is sweet, down to earth and has the charm and allure of the girl next door. The two hit it off, much to their parents delight. The thing that’s wonderful about Leonard's parent’s in this film is the fact that they have his best interest at heart, even if that means eavesdropping at his bedroom door and pushing him towards a relationship with Sandra.
Shortly after meeting Sandra, Leonard meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), his parent’s new neighbor. Michelle is different from Sandra, showing a wilder, uninhibited side. There’s also the fact that she’s in love with a married man. Still, Leonard can’t see any of her faults (or adores her more for them) - he’s enamored with her energy, which seems so different from everything he’s known for so long. Much to Leonard’s dismay, Michelle sees him as a brother figure in her life.
“Two Lovers” touches on Leonard’s battle with being bipolar, as well as his struggle to move forward in his life. Leonard starts off timid and seems kind enough, but as he grows closer to both women he changes some and regains some confidence. The confidence borders somewhat on neediness with Michelle as he tries to go out of his way to meet with her and share interests with the fast moving, party girl. His moments with Sandra are much more low key, and all the more enjoyable. Sandra truly loves Leonard and can sense his aching when she tells him that she wants to take care of him. Despite Sandra’s presence, Leonard still clings to the unknown by continuing to run to Michelle when she calls for him.
“Two Lovers” stands apart from all other films of this nature in part due to the acting and directing. Director James Gray does a fantastic job of presenting a cohesive, beautiful film with wonderful, slow moments that draw the viewer in. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Leonard quite as well as Phoenix, and Rossellini and Moshonov standout in roles that could have become one-note in less capable hands. Shaw was probably my favorite thing about the film; although not in most of the scenes, she stood out by delivering an engaging, warm performance. The only person that disappointed was Paltrow as Michelle. Although a fan of Paltrow, I had trouble believing her as the enigmatic creature that captures Leonard’s heart. She felt stiff in the role, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy the fact that she was a wild party girl. This is unfortunate for the film, especially considering “Two Lovers” needs us to believe that Michelle is this creature that Leonard can’t resist, even when Sandra’s at his side.
The thing that makes “Two Lovers” interesting are the subtle changes in the characters. Watching Leonard as he tries to sort out his feelings for Michelle and Sandra, as well as their reactions to knowing him deeper is done beautifully here. Sure, this story isn’t anything new: the heartbroken guy falls for two women, both who offer him something he thinks he’s missing. He must struggle between choosing the woman who is wild and unobtainable, and the one who could provide him comfort, love and stability. Make of it what you will, “Two Lovers” is a nice, quiet film that while not flawless, is certainly a decent picture worth looking into. The ending will disappoint some and make other’s smile, but it’s really a matter of perspective, which makes the film all the more refreshing.
VIDEO: "Two Lovers" is presented by Magnolia Entertainment in 2.40:1 (1080p/AVC). Image quality is generally fine - it's not a reference quality presentation, nor would one expect it to be. Sharpness and detail are average, as while some scenes appeared crisp and detailed, others - such as some interiors - could look mildly soft. Mild-to-moderate grain is seen, but this is likely an intentional element of the cinematography. Some light edge enhancement is occasionally seen, but no other concerns were spotted. Colors remain low-key, but seemed accurately presented.
SOUND: The film's DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack matches expectations, remaining a largely dialogue-driven effort. Surrounds do perk up on occasion to provide some slight ambience, but the majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and no distortion or other faults.
EXTRAS: Commentary with Director James Gray - Gray does a nice job offering an informative commentary. While the commentary moves at a similar pace to the film, Gray does manage to offer a great deal of insight into the film and the meaning behind several scenes and characters. Very nice commentary that’s worth a listen.
Also included on the Blu-ray DVD are: “Behind the Scenes”- a seven minute look behind the scenes of “Two Lovers”, “Deleted Scenes” , “Previews”, a “Photo Gallery”, and “HDNet: A Look at Two Lovers” a four and a half minute making of feature with interviews and footage.
Final Thoughts: "Two Lovers" is a richly acted, compelling film from director Gray. The Blu-Ray offers satisfactory audio/video quality, as well as a few extras. Recommended.
The Film B-