Earlier this year, Joaquin Phoenix appeared on the David Letterman show to promote his new film Two Lovers. Only he appeared distracted, disheveled, and sported a beard to rival that of Cat Stephens. He announced that he was no longer going to be an actor and that he would be pursuing his hip-hop career instead. This bizarre announcement, coupled with his look and demeanor, caused viewers to wonder if it was all a hoax. According to Mr. Phoenix, he is being entirely truthful.
For his final film(?), Phoenix chose to work with a director who he had worked with previously with The Yards and 2007’s We Own the Night, James Gray. In the extras on the disc, Gray describes his working relationship with Phoenix to be like one he has never had with an actor. He says that the two can complete each other’s sentences and thoughts. Perhaps this is why Phoenix chose Gray even though We Own the Night was critically panned and did not perform well at the box office.
Two Lovers is a romantic film, but it is not a love story. Phoenix plays Leonard Kraditor, a troubled man who has come to live with his parents after a failed relationship with his ex-fiancee. His Jewish parents, played by Moni Moshonov (also in We Own The Night) and Isabella Rossellini (The Accidental Husband), try to set him up with the daughter of their friends. The daughter Sandra (Vinessa Shaw, 3:10 To Yuma), as it turns out, was interested in Leonard and arranged the set up herself. As she pursues Leonard, he is interested at first, but quickly becomes distracted by the sexy neighbor upstairs, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Leonard finds himself completely in love with Michelle, although she happens to be in love with a married man (Elias Koteas, The Haunting in Connecticut)who keeps telling her that he will leave his wife but never does. Michelle never reciprocates Leonard’s love, so he finds himself going back to Sandra who is completely in love with him.
This is a vicious love triangle born out of desperation and loneliness. Everyone involved is at their wit’s end and are grasping at love and acceptance but are unable to obtain it. They are aware that their behavior is self-destructive and yet they have no desire to change it. This is a very painful thing to watch at times, much like watching Kym’s very public downward spiral in Rachel Getting Married.
Director James Gray is also one of the two screenwriters of the film. The story is adapted from a novella by Dostoyevsky entitled “White Knights”. While the concept is classic tragedy, the reality of the situation is going to resonate with viewers, but the loneliness of the characters might be too close to home.
This Blu-ray release is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with 5.1 Dolby digital surround.
Behind the Scenes – Director James Gray talks about how easy it was for him to put this film together. Every aspect was so easy for him. He just comes across as incredibly bloated and self-serving. 7:04
Deleted Scenes – Three total, none of which are essential to the storyline. 9:22
HDNet: A Look At Two Lovers – A featurette that originally aired on HDNet. Another short behind the scenes, this one less pompous. 4:32
Commentary with Director/Writer James Gray – Gray has a lot of things to say about the film, but his voice is so monotonous, reminiscent of Ben Stein. If he were the teacher, we’d be falling asleep in class.
As Joaquin Phoenix’s last film, Two Lovers does not do his career justice. The actor who once shone in films like Gladiator and Walk the Line will thankfully be remembered for those films and not for this. Hopefully hip-hop is only a temporary diversion and we will soon have Phoenix back and acting in the sort of films we will remember him for.
Magnolia Home Entertainment presents Two Lovers. Directed by: James Gray. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw. Written by: James Gray. Running time: 108 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: June 30, 2009. Available at Amazon.com