On an objective level I can see that James Gray has crafted an impressive relationship drama in TWO LOVERS. The slippery title speaks to a simplicity of purpose that the characters in this film are too emotionally immature to attain. Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard, a severely depressed thirty-something with an infantile sense of humour who still lives with his parents in their mummified apartment in Little Odessa. Leonard mumbles incoherently about lost love and has no direction. Despite all this, he attracts the love of Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) - a level-headed family friend who seems to want to mother him more than marry him. Leonard carries on a relationship with Sandra, maybe to please his folks, maybe just because it's easy, maybe because on one level he does care for her. But at the same time, he's fascinating by the blonde beauty living upstairs - a similarly emotionally infantile thirty-something called Michelle played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Michelle offers everything Sandra doesn't: a glimpse into life in the City away from the suburbs - a sense of adventure. She's also someone who is such an emotional wreck that for once Leonard can be the emotional support, rather than the parasite. For Michelle, Leonard is an enabler. Someone who listens to her whine about her self-created crises and fuels her fantasies of getting away and thinking things through.
These three people are all in relationships that are ultimately delusional and unsustainable. I am sure that to many people this is what makes for a compelling, tragic, authentic drama. I partly agree. The relationship between Sandra and Leonard was fascinating. But I have to say that I found the relationship between Michelle and Leonard utterly unsatisfying. They had no chemistry - Michelle seemed less interesting that whiny (maybe intentional?) and Paltrow mis-cast as an allurement (even if the part was written for her.) Matters weren't helped by the inclusion of one of the most unintentionally funny sex scenes I've seen in a long time.
Like I said, objectively speaking, I can see that this is an impressive film. The tone is beautifully weary, the cinematography impressive, the dull grey-blue colouring all-pervasive. I like the focus on every-day details of life in Little Odessa and the fact that a film dares to deal with the reality of relationships rather than rom-com fantasies. Still, for all that, I was rather bored throughout the movie and rather relieved when it was over.
TWO LOVERS played Cannes and London 2007 and was released in France and Belgium last year. It was released earlier this year in the US and is currently on release in Greece, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK. It opens next week in the Czech Republic, and on May 21st in Russia. It opens in Argentina on September 17th.