How curious and somehow sad that 34 year-old Joaquin Phoenix (“Walk the Line”) has decided to retire from acting to pursue a career as in the rap music biz just when he delivers another impressive performance in “Two Lovers.”
Set in insular, working-class Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, the story delves into the romantic ambivalence of awkward, troubled Leonard Kraditor (Phoenix), who suffers from a bipolar disorder and moves in with his parents after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. In an effort to draw him out of his depression, his parents (Isabella Rossellini, Moni Moshonov) introduce him to Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw), the delightfully well-balanced daughter of an associate who is buying out the family’s dry-cleaning business. Instead, however, Leonard is inexorably drawn to a neurotic neighbor, Michelle Rausch (Gwyneth Paltrow), a radiant, willowy, blonde legal assistant who is involved not only with drugs but also with a married lawyer (Elias Koteas) who is paying her rent.
Director James Gray (“Little Odessa,” “The Yards,” “We Own the Night”), who wrote the screenplay with Richard Menello, elicits creditable performances from both Vinessa Shaw and Gwyneth Paltrow but Joaquin Phoenix cleverly captures every twitchy nuance of his wounded character’s rampant insecurity. And if some of the melodramatic themes seem familiar, they’re drawn in part from a Dostoyevsky story called “White Nights,” not to mention Elaine May’s “The Heartbreak Kid.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Two Lovers” is an unpredictably soppy, occasionally self-indulgent 6. Perhaps one should not take Phoenix’s abrupt ‘retirement announcement’ on “The Late Show with David Letterman” too seriously since sources close to the actor suspect it’s a hoax staged for the mockumentary that Casey Affleck is secretly filming about him – and, in case you didn’t know, it was heavily-bearded, not-quite-lucid Joaquin Phoenix whom Ben Stiller was impersonating on the Oscar broadcast.