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3/19/09

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With all the talk about Joaquin Phoenix going nuts, we've forgotten about how talented an actor he is. And if he has gone off the deep end and truly retired from acting, which I don't believe for a second, his last film Two Lovers is a great swan song. This is his film. He's in every single scene, with hardly a shot in the film without him in it, and the film is that much better for it. The film opens with his character Leonard jumping into an icy river, trying to kill himself for yet unknown reasons. Sinking into the deep, he thinks better of it and lets somebody help pull him out. He walks home, where we meet his parents, an old Jewish couple, played lovingly by Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov. Dad proudly owns a dry-cleaning business, which he expects Leonard to inherit.

Leonard is a sad soul, every movement of his comes with great pain, just breathing seems to be an effort. He brightens up a little when he meets a young woman Sandra, whose father has plans on going into business with Leonard's father. In a short scene in Leonard's bedroom, we see that he can be a little witty and charming when there's a cute girl to impress, but the sparks don't fly. He really comes alive when he meets Michelle, played wonderfully by Gwyneth Paltrow. She's gorgeous and interesting, Leonard is instantly infatuated. He does a bit of innocent stalking and they quickly become friends. It's soon clear that Michelle might be even more messed up than Leonard, but her problems only grows Leonard's attraction towards her. Meanwhile he's still seeing Sandra, who wants to take care of him, but he's only doing it to please their respective fathers. The film ends with a note perfect twist that leaves you very conflicted on how to feel.

Two Lovers is the best drama I've seen about love in a long time. There's no conflict in Leonard about who he wants to be with, but Michelle is seeing somebody else and his family wants him to marry Sandra, who seems to be the perfect fit. But his heart wants what it wants, even if she's emotionally unavailable. Phoenix plays Leonard perfectly, he's very quiet throughout, but you can read every emotion in his eyes. Sadly I don't often get drawn into films the way I should, but his anxiousness made me feel anxious, and I was squirming in my seat as the film approached its gut wrenching climax. This is a very quiet movie, with not a whole lot of plot development, just a lot of well written and performed conversations. The film feels absolutely real, as we follow Leonard through a confusing few weeks as his life comes to a crucial turning point. A really beautiful little film. - Grade: B+

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