Published Apr 09, 2009Despite a routine love-triangle setup, nothing about Two Lovers feels particularly familiar, neither adhering to formula and genre conventions nor defying them. The characters are well intentioned, if flawed, never exposing hidden agendas or spelling out clichéd motivations during conveniently timed speeches.
These are people that we all know, making decisions that most of us can relate to with a tentative sincerity that rings entirely true. It is refreshing, moving and entirely successful in its aims of presenting a damaged man who has to decide between safety and security or the provocation of the unknown.
This damaged man is Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), a mostly introverted but friendly depressive whose retreat to his childhood bedroom following the dissolution of his engagement has left him contemplating suicide. When not making deliveries for his father's dry cleaning business, he fumbles through flirtations with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a family friend whose father is buying out the business that Leonard's parents (Isabella Rossellini, Moni Monoshov) own.
While Sandra is sweet natured and ideal, if somewhat simple, Leonard's attention is quickly drawn to Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), his beautiful and impulsive new neighbour whose go-with-the-flow attitude inspires him to take risks. The problem is that Michelle is a recreational drug user whose apartment is paid for by her married boyfriend (Elias Koteas).
This is all presented with maturity and an acute perception, as these characters, embodied perfectly by all the actors, are never handled with melodrama, rather a quiet distance and ingenuousness, which proves far more revealing and human than any amount of refined exposition. It is painful to watch these people dwell on their negative traits and repeat patterns of destructive behaviour, even when they stumble onto a bettering decision that may be right on the whole but not for their particular place in life.
Some viewers may be bored by the slower pace and lack of deliberate tension to clarify tone and feelings, while others will appreciate seeing a love story that neither romanticizes love nor trivializes it. (E1)