Dir James Gray US (15+)
Has Joaquin Phoenix always been something of a sweet nebbish and we just didn’t know it? His soft voice and bounding awkwardness brought weird notes to Gladiator’s Commodus and to Johnny Cash. But here, as Two Lovers’ shut-in Leonard, a 30-ish sad sack living with his Brighton Beach parents and getting over a devastating breakup with a long-gone fiancée, he excels like never before.
Leonard evolves before our eyes (a tribute to a beautifully modulated script): suicidal, goofy, hard working, certainly not childish. The movie is set at the moment when he finally begins to love again and, as these things sometimes happen, he meets two worthy candidates at once. There’s upstairs-neighbour Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), already involved with a married man, and grounded Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), whom Leonard’s doting parents obviously prefer.
Our hero is a different guy with either of them, and he falls deeply for one. We won’t say whom; the beauty of Gray’s movie is not its celebration of rebirth, but its sophisticated embrace of something more resigned and random. So much of life’s momentousness is accidental; nothing in Two Lovers is.