If you enjoy a romantic movie with a weird twist and a less–than-happy ending, “Two Lovers” is for you. I entered the theater with an open mind and certain excitement that comes from entering a film with an enticing name like “Two Lovers.” Unfortunately, it definitely wasn’t the typical Romeo and Juliet kind of cinematic experience I was expecting.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays the assistant to a washed up ex-drug addict lawyer who is caught in an affair with one of the married senior partners. She befriends her neighbor, played by Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix’s character is much more flabby, angst-ridden and bipolar than the buff leading man we are used to seeing from him. He plays a suicide-prone 20-something named Leonard, from a Jewish family. He still lives at home and works in his dad’s dry cleaning business.
The storyline felt a little bit too much like a soap opera, with Leonard trying to drown himself in the bay in the beginning of the film. It was hard to believe that his character could be so socially awkward and reclusive, yet still be able to balance a love triangle with Paltrow’s character and the more fresh-faced Sandra, played by newcomer Vinessa Shaw.
I was surprised by the unexpected humor peppered throughout that actually amused me, but it felt a little odd to be laughing during such a somber film. The plot was a little predictable – Phoenix falls in love with Paltrow, while dating Shaw. However, I was still intrigued. I found myself sympathizing with Shaw’s character and feeling aggravated with Phoenix for toying with her obvious affections. He had a serious case of wanting what he couldn’t have, which can only end in heartache. It was a unique twist on the traditional love story, but it was not enough to make it worth the two hours of my free time I spent watching it.
It has been hyped that this is Phoenix’s last movie before “retiring” from the acting scene, but if he was looking to go out on top this was quite a disappointment. If his recent celeb appearances have been any indication, his awkwardness and reclusive attitude are simply an extension of this character. This was not a film for fans of “happily ever after.” It was however, shockingly gritty and real. The filming style was similar to that of a documentary, with unusual camera angles and creative blending techniques between shots. The lighting seems to be filtered in a way that gives the whole production a dark and depressing tone. In retrospect, the lighting is very in line with the plot.
Set in the poorer parts of suburban New York, there are some great shots of the city and surrounding area mixed in between the drama. One of the best filmed parts of the entire movie is set in a nightclub where you actually feel like you’re on a vibrating dance floor, quite inebriated, watching strange faces swirl around you, rather than sitting in a perfectly still and dark movie theater.
With a strange, twisted plot and mediocre characters, “Two Lovers” is one of those movies that’s just a little bit too long. It definitely isn’t a replacement for a Friday night out and about in the city, but if you’re bored this weekend and want to watch something different for a change, check it out.