Editors' pick

Two Lovers

Two Lovers movie poster
MPAA rating: R
Genre: Drama
A Brooklyn-set romantic drama about a bachelor (Phoenix) torn between the family friend his parents wish he would marry and his beautiful but volatile new neighbor.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, John Oritz, Elias Koteas
Director: James Gray
Running time: 1:49
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Editorial Review

The question raised by "Two Lovers," James Gray's quiet, unadorned romantic drama starring Joaquin Phoenix, is whether seeing the movie is worth leaving the comfort of your sofa and widescreen TV, where it's available on pay-per-view, and schlepping to your local theater. The answer hinges on the degree to which the viewer deems Phoenix's announcement of his retirement historic or just another publicity stunt.

Either way, "Two Lovers" reminds audiences of what a charismatic actor the movies would lose in Phoenix, wholooked like a strung-out refugee from ZZ Top during a recent appearance with David Letterman. In Gray's movie, Phoenix is his old, clean-shaven self as Leonard Kraditor, a troubled young man who has moved back in with his parents in Brighton Beach. Torn between a gorgeous if unstable shiksa goddess (Gwyneth Paltrow) and the nice Jewish girl (Vinessa Shaw) his mom and dad are clearly crazy about, Leonard ultimately has to decide which self to express: the romantic but doomed artist or the settled but thwarted family man.

Movies have visited this terrain before, from "The Graduate" to last year's wonderful "Momma's Man." But "Two Lovers" has its pleasures, too, even if Paltrow seems wildly out of place in a drama committed to adamantly un-starry realism. The movie's chief value is to preserve Phoenix at the height of his wary physical grace, which recalls a young Marlon Brando.

-- Ann Hornaday (Feb. 27, 2009)

Contains profanity, sexuality and brief drug use.