Watching Joaquin Phoenix in Two Lovers made me wish he would go to the barber, get a shave and stop his infantile flirtation with becoming the new Vanilla Ice and get back to doing what he does best—create interesting, layered characters for the big screen. In Two Lovers, which Phoenix claims will be his last film, he hands in a towering performance that is simultaneously quietly intense and tortured.
Two Lovers is set in Brighton Beach, a small community on Coney Island, New York. Phoenix is Leonard, a man left devastated by a recent break-up. He’s moved back into his parent’s home and is working at the family dry cleaning business. He lives a life of quiet desperation until his matchmaker parents try and set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the pretty daughter of a business associate. She becomes love number one. That same week he has a chance encounter with Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), his beautiful, but damaged upstairs neighbor. She becomes love number two, and complicates Leonard’s already complex emotional life.
Two Lovers is a deliberately paced film filled with rich, interesting performances. Phoenix subtlety gives Leonard a full inner life as his bi-polar character swings from high points to low. It’s a quietly riveting performance and one of the best so far this year.
Paltrow redeems herself after her dull work in Iron Man. She brings the beautiful and tragic Michelle to vivid life, playing her as a woman blinded by her need to be accepted by men.
The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent and well cast. Vinessa Shaw as the nurturing Sandra takes the least interesting of the three main roles and creates a fully rounded and appealing character, while Isabella Rossellini and Moni Monoshov fill every frame they appear in with parental warmth.
Two Lovers moves slowly—one critic prescribed it as a “non-addictive, non-chemical cure for insomnia”—but for those willing to stay with the film’s reflective pace there are rewards.
Two things in the last 24 hours have gotten me thinking about movie stars who seem determined to throw their careers away.
First, I saw a picture of Lindsay Lohan slumped over in the backseat of a limo. With a tangled mess of flame coloured hair obscuring her face, the former A-lister looked, to put it mildly, a little worse for the wear and tear.
Secondly, I saw as a depressed man torn between two women. Watching his work made me wish he would go to the barber, get a shave, stop his infantile flirtation with becoming the new Vanilla Ice and get back to doing what he does best — create interesting, layered characters for the big screen.
Both are accomplished stars — he’s a two time Oscar nominee and just four years ago she won the Superstar of Tomorrow award — and both have recently been added to a long list of Hollywood actors who, through personal temperament, ego or bad management, have allowed their careers to swirl down the drain.
The most cheerless flameout of recent years has to be Tom Sizemore. After a string of arrests, failed drug tests (one involving a prosthetic penis) and a self-marketed amateur porn tape, the once formidable star of Strange Days and Saving Private Ryan has sunk so low even Paris Hilton denies having a one-night-stand with him.
Rupert Everett told the New York Times Magazine that defining his sexuality was career suicide as a leading man. “I wanted to be a movie star,” he said. “I had a difficult set of circumstances to deal with, particularly for a movie career. Being gay. It just doesn’t work.” Times have changed since 1997 when he came out, (just ask Ian McKellen) but the damage to Everett’s career was already done. I’d further suggest making horrible movies with Madonna (remember The Next Best Thing? Its 17 per cent rating at Rotten Tomatoes says it all) was the postscript on his career suicide note.
As difficult as it is to see once promising careers evaporate, like everything in this ever shifting world not even career suicide is permanent.
Just a few years ago Tom Cruise looked like he was, as Film Threat wrote, “a man on a career-suicide mission,” but even after the one-two punch of bad publicity following his couch gymnastics on the Oprah show, insults to Brooke Shields and the release of the fetid Lions For Lambs, Cruise bounced back. He was welcomed back by a Golden Globe nomination for Tropic Thunder, his first major award nod in five years.