C. Robert Cargill July 1, 2009
Touted as Joaquin Phoenix‘s final film performance (whether or not it actually is, of course, remains to be seen), Two Lovers finally makes its way onto DVD after a limited theater run. Directed by James Gray (who worked with Phoenix twice before in The Yards and We Own The Night), this is a dark, Dostoyevski-inspired drama about a very broken man trying to get over the love of his life when two distinctly different loves enter simultaneously. Gwyneth Paltrow is the equally damaged, drug-abusing girlfriend of a married man who lives next door and just wants a friend. Vinessa Shaw is the lonely good girl and friend of the family that loves Phoenix’s Leonard for who he is and just wants to settle down and bring two successful families together. He belongs with Shaw, so you know he is morally obligated to chase after the crazy, mixed-up Paltrow. And that takes the story to some interesting, but ultimately unlikable, places.
The film is an incredibly well-made, somber film about love, loss, and our desires often circumventing our needs (or common sense). But the problem is that Leonard is a dark character. He is supposed to be. But many times that just makes him unlikable. It’s hard to get involved with him since he always seems to be doing what he shouldn’t be, while making choices we don’t want him to make. The result creates a watchable, intelligent film, but not one you will be prone to like unless you enjoy independent films about generally unlikable characters.
I personally found the film an unsettling one with an undeserved but almost necessary ending that had my wife and I complaining for a good 20 minutes about the resolution. That said, we were discussing the film, something one can never simply dismiss. While I didn’t enjoy it, nor will I watch it again, it got under my skin a bit and confronted me, refusing to be ignored. And that is the mark of interesting, if unrewarding, filmmaking. Gray has a habit of making long, muddled films that never manage to get around to their point — but this is different, personal and focused. Of his work, this is the piece that will stick with me most and intrigues me to see his next film, whatever that may be. Phoenix is fantastic as always — and both Paltrow and Shaw are equally met with the passion they put into their own unhinged, needy characters. There isn’t a weak link to be found in this film — it all comes down to whether or not you embrace the story Gray wants to tell you.
As a DVD and Blu-ray (the special features are the same on both) the disc is almost completely unremarkable. There’s a behind-the-scenes, a special look (which is just another behind-the-scenes), and a photo gallery. Most worth checking out are the three deleted sequences, which Gray lays bare as pieces of the film that had to go. He gives a short, eloquent written explanation before each scene and then offers up scenes that really needed to go. Most fascinating was a long sequence that changed Leonard from simply unlikable to downright crazy. It’s a stalker sequence in which he follows one of the girls to a hotel to keep tabs on her. It goes way too far, and Gray admits that what works on paper doesn’t always work on film; he shows it to us as proof of how you can radically change a character with one bad scene.
Gray’s honesty throughout the features is what struck me most and helped me fully understand what kind of work he was making. This is the personal kind of indie filmmaking that isn’t meant for mass consumption. It’s intended for those who want to explore and think about a film. If that’s not you, you’ll most likely shrug this off as boring and creepy. But if you’re a fan of cutting edge cinema unafraid to deliver unlikable characters in tough stories, this is worth a look.
Two Lovers is available now from Magnolia Home Entertainment.
Categories: No CategoriesTags: Dvd review, Gwyneth paltrow, Joaquin phoenix, Two lovers, Vinessa shaw