Lonely Fools in Love
Two Lovers tells a pretty old story but gets you hooked on its atmosphere and how it embellishes the heady sensation of shedding the coldness of solitude and depression with the warmth of walking through a new romance. Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) is a stalled man. Ever since his fiancée left him, he lives with and works for his parents while entertaining notions of suicide. A visit from his father's friend's family brings about a new possibility, for their daughter Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) is interested in Leonard, and she doesn't seem to be a bad prospect. But very soon after that meeting, Leonard runs into his new neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), a blonde with a few irresistable bad habits, and he finds a new spark.
Set in Brighton Beach, Two Lovers uses the night time and many isolated conversations -- in corridors, on rooftops, across apartment windows -- to emphasize the potency of romance against the chill and loneliness of the outside world. It needs the mileage gained from this emphasis because the story relies on characters to behave foolishly in the face of love -- Leonard's attraction to Michelle is both exciting and unwise, as Michelle is herself hopelessly hooked on a married man she's having an affair with.
Michelle is unfortunately something of a stereotype, the kind of needy girl a clearheaded person becomes frustrated to see a friend fall for; but she is balanced well by Phoenix's portrayal of Leonard. This character is unique -- he doesn't feel like a movie character with his unpolished manner of speech and his somewhat charming impulsiveness, which contrasts with his seemingly quiet, "I want to be alone" disposition. Phoenix is also able to subtly show how deep the man's pain goes, and how it's dulled by the situation he's living in. It's all enough to forgive Leonard for being -- and, more importantly, to believe him as -- another sad fool in love. (Capsule review)
(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated "R" for language, some sexuality and brief drug use.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.