First rule of movie publicity: never forget the product. When Joaquin Phoenix went on Letterman to talk up James Gray’s Two Lovers, it was an unmitigated disaster.
After his on-air meltdown, there was huge media buzz about Phoenix’s Grizzly Adams beard and his ridiculous plans for a hip-hop career. The movie itself couldn’t compete. Time for home entertainment.
It’s a low-key indie, unflinchingly downbeat and heart-wrenchingly real. In it, Phoenix undergoes a different sort of crack up, playing a thirtysomething photographer living with his parents in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.
Just out of the loony bin, he’s caught between two women: Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), a drug-popping party girl involved with a married man; and Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the beautiful but conventional Russian-Jewish girl whose family is buying Leonard’s dad’s dry-cleaning business.
One’s unattainable and messed up, the other’s available but boring. Bouncing between them, Leonard becomes the two lovers of the title – he is would-be protector to one, needy little boy to the other.
Ten minutes of deleted scenes and a slightly stilted director’s commentary accompany the film. Gray doesn’t bear a grudge, praising Phoenix’s meticulous method: “All you can do as a director is give him the space to be creative and brilliant.”
It’s a great, grown-up role for the actor. Phoenix should have been more grateful but, much like Leonard, he was seemingly too self-absorbed to recognise the love he was being offered.
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