Reel Critic:

A kind, sweet love story

February 21, 2009|By Jeff Klemzak

I admit that this latest work by director James Gray took some warming up to, but once I did, I began to feel the kindness of this story and sorry that I had resisted for as long as I did. “Two Lovers” is certainly not the most conventional of love stories but that is the difference that lends to its charm.

Leonard, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a brooding, troubled, 30-ish man who is facing some problems getting his life together. Still living at home and working in his father’s dry-cleaning shop, Leonard is under far more scrutiny by his parents than seems to be necessary and it is wearing rather thin.

Despite his “Sad Sack” appearance, Leonard manages to attract the attention of two beautiful women but only one, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), has gotten into his blood. Michelle is a neighbor and a party girl who is mixed up with a married man and offers excitement that can’t be found in the dry cleaning business but only takes Leonard so far before applying the brakes.


Phoenix does a splendid job with the fractured Leonard — his wan smile and mumbled speech punctuated when necessary by outbursts of raw, loud emotion that has been bottled up for far too long. His face lights up when he catches a glimpse of Michelle in the window of the opposing upstairs flat. But his shoulders sag in the doldrums of the dry cleaning plant.

The other lover, Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), is the daughter of Leonard’s parents business partners and although Sandra is sweet and attractive, a life with her is still a life in the dry cleaning business with his parents. What to do? Poor Leonard has already tried an unsuccessful suicide or two and perhaps he is doubting if he can make anything work.

The most cheerful aspect of this sweetly sad story is the way the characters display the kindness that they have for one another. No matter how bollixed things get on a situational level, the characters never seem to display a vindictive nature and even when it is necessary to scrape at a wound from time to time it seems to be done with a good grace about it.

I never tired of the interaction between the characters no matter how strained things seemed to be on the surface and I especially enjoyed the way Gray used the people of different generations to express points of understanding rather than points of contention.

Phoenix’s Leonard comes to a point in this film where it is necessary to make a decision and even after the decision has been made and the credits are rolling, the decision is still open to debate.

Rated R for language, drug use and sexual situations “Two Lovers” runs for one hour and 48 minutes.

?JEFF KLEMZAK is a film fan from La Crescenta. ?JEFF KLEMZAK is a film fan from La Crescenta.

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