favorite leading man portrays withdrawn-from-life 30-something Leonard,
who returns to live at his parents’ Brighton Beach apartment following
a romantic relationship gone drastically awry. The moody lad would
rather shoot black-and-white snapshots of bleak, abandoned storefronts
(“There are no people in these photos,” notes one observer) instead of
taking over the dry-cleaning business owned by his dad (Moni Monoshov);
after all, the opening sequence of Leonard attempting to end it all via
drowning provides a tip-off that this guy is in severe psychological
Possible redemption is presented with
two attractive fronts. Leonard’s parents try to fix him up with
sweetheart Jewish gal Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of a
dry-cleaning entrepreneur interested in buying out the biz run by
Leonard’s dad. Such a good catch, right? But Leonard also falls for the
dangerous charms of new neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow); she’s the
type of shiksa goddess (to coin Dustin Hoffman’s view of Valerine
Perrine in 1974’s Lenny) who can effortlessly glide past a tony
nightclub’s velvet rope, although her truckload of emotional baggage
could give a redcap a hernia.
The reasons why both women are so easily
drawn to Leonard, aquiver with shaded neuroses amid a mumbling,
shambling, Brando-esque hulk, might not be clear for even the most
patient of moviegoers, but they are detailed with subtlety. Sandra
holds Leonard’s scarred arm, the result of a previous suicide bid, and
tells him, “I want to take care of you.” As for Michelle, she
instinctively realizes that Leonard is as screwed up as she is.
The script, co-written by Gray and
Richard Menello, and cribbed from Dostoyevsky, ambles down the expected
avenues, with some Hitchcockian references to Rear Window’s voyeurism and the obsessions of Vertigo. Yet somehow Gray convinces viewers to stick with Two Lovers just to see how the tragedy plays out again, even though his soundtrack use of some operatic arias strikes as overkill.
Shaw makes the most of her sideline
heartbreaker while Paltrow gives Michelle a casual allure that can’t
quite hide her character’s darker side. Phoenix’s vulnerable Leonard
conveys the psyche-damaging weight that conversely accompanies living
amid Brooklyn’s big-city emptiness; the actor is far more coherent than
his disastrous David Letterman appearance, with his breakdancing
routine in Two Lovers registering as an absolute hoot. And keep
an eye out for Isabella Rossellini as Leonard’s concerned mom, who even
listens under his bedroom door to see if something’s bothering him;
she’s not just a mother hen stereotype, because she’s in genuine fear
that Leonard might go off the psychological deep end one last time.
Crazy for you: Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow in Two Lovers.