Apr 20, 2009

Two Lovers [15]

Dir: James Gray
I never heckle movies, it’s idiotic for one thing, and it’s annoying to anyone who might be enjoying whatever piece of crap I’m enduring. At times though, watching Two Lovers, it was a real effort to stop myself quoting Punch Drunk Love and bellowing “SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP! Shut up; will you SHUTUP SHUTUP! SHUT SHUT SHUT SHUT SHUTUP... SHUTUP! NOW” at the screen.

Two Lovers is little more than a two hour whine, mumbled at us by Joaquin Phoenix.  Phoenix seems to have forgotten how enunciate his words, meaning that his dialogue comes out as a low droning sound, barely understandable to the human ear. His character, Leonard, has problems in his love life; he’s trying to choose between settled, loving, drop dead gorgeous Vinessa Shaw and scatty, troubled, drop dead gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow. You know what Leonard, I’ll switch places with you, make that MY problem, that’s fine with me.

The greater problem is that none of these people are remotely interesting. Leonard, even on the few occasions you can hear what he’s saying, is dull company; he has almost no personality and nothing to say. Vinessa Shaw’s Sandra is a cipher, a nothing. Why is it that when filmmakers try to put a ‘nice’, ‘normal’ girl on screen she more often than not ends up being a total nothing? What happened to the Diane Court’s of cinema? It’s not Shaw’s fault that she makes very little impression on the film, in fact she’s one of the best things in it, struggling valiantly to make something of a part to which there’s little to be done than flashing a dazzling grin in the direction of Joaquin Phoenix.

The film, like Leonard, is absolutely head over heels for Paltrow’s Michelle, and the interest from both parties is utterly inexplicable. Michelle is double trouble; fucked up and boring as hell.  Paltrow is certainly beautiful, as Gray’s loving shots of her take pains to remind us, but Michelle has nothing else going for her. She doesn’t seem clever, or funny, or interesting. Because you are never attracted to any of these people it remains a mystery why they are attracted to one another. Even as Leonard and Michelle form a friendship you don’t really have any clue as to why, on what level they connect.

These things wouldn’t matter so much in an action movie, but when the entire thrust of the film is Leonard’s difficulty in choosing between these two women the fact that we never know why either couple is together or care about either couple ending up together kills the entire enterprise stone dead.

Gray is a competent filmmaker, and there’s an effectively chilly and formal sense of composition to this film, making it far more engaging to look at than it is to listen to its characters (fitting, given that Leonard is a photographer whose New York landscapes never include people). There’s also a nicely judged performance, in just two scenes, by Elias Koteas as Paltrow’s married lover and a film stealing turn from a dressed down Isabella Rossellini as Phoenix’ mother. Overall Two Lovers bored me, it was like listening to a stranger whine about their latest break up for two hours, and just as impossible to care about.

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