This year’s James Gray vintage (We Own The Night was his last film before this) is called Two Lovers and stars Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. Set in New York City’s outer boroughs again and told in near-documentary style and with a barebones soundtrack, Two Lovers lets Gray go at the heart of his own style as filmmaker, it seems. This time around he’s got nothing to prove. The most gratifying element of this year’s James Gray vintage is seeing Joaquin Phoenix playing a character who is a little more complex than the nightclub don dada he portrayed in We Own The Night. His Leonard Kraditor has bipolar disorder and swings convincigly between introvertedness and eager involvement between two women. Paltrow acts both as a counterpoint and a trigger to Phoenix’s character complexities.
While recovering under the watchful eye of his parents (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Monoshov), Leonard meets two women in quick succession: Michelle (Paltrow), a mysterious and beautiful neighbor who is exotic and out-of-place in Leonard’s staid world, and Sandra, the lovely and caring daughter of a businessman who is buying out his family’s dry-cleaning business. Leonard becomes deeply infatuated by Michelle, who seems poised to fall for him, but is having a self-destructive affair with a married man. At the same time, mounting pressure from his family pushes him towards committing to Sandra. Leonard is forced to make an impossible decision – between the impetuousness of desire and the comfort of love – or risk falling back into the darkness that nearly killed him.