This little gem of a film came out very early this year and I was just recently able to catch up with it on Netflix. Two Lovers has achieved moderate fame for being Joaquin Phoenix's "last film." This of course being due to his foray into the hip hop performance industry, leaving his acting career in the dust. It's hard to take him seriously, especially when he appeared as he did on Letterman apparently high, or completely out of his mind. Some people (Ebert) thought this was completely unfair to his fellow actors and filmmakers on this project. Normally I'd agree with him, but it seems that this episode actually made more people aware of the film, and that is a good thing, because it really is one of the better films of 2009 so far.
Two Lovers centers around Leonard (Phoenix), a Jewish man, probably in his late twenties, who has recently moved back into his parents house and started working in their dry cleaning business. I love the dynamic between him and his parents. Their relationship is so sweet and quaint, but seems real, in a way I haven't seen on screen in a while. There's no unnecessary drama or people overreacting, or screaming at each other. They care for each other, and while his mother does seem to be a bit nosey at times, her behavior turns out to be completely merited.
The "two lovers" in question are Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), the somewhat reckless free spirited neighbor, and Sandra (Venessa Shaw), the pretty, matronly daughter of his fathers business partner. Each has their own qualities, but he's more attracted to Michelle, who of course is in love with a married attorney that she works with. This may all seem a little too melodramatic, but Leonards back story (which I won't give away here) and Pheonix's outstanding performance grounds this story and completely supported my empathy for his character.
With excellent performances all the way around, and a poignant story told with a delicate touch by writer/director James Gray, there's a lot to like here. Although there's no doubt this is a small film, Two Lovers features one of the best performances of the year so far (excuse the hyperbole, but he's that good) and deserves to be seen.