Friday, May 1, 2009

Two Lovers (Rhoades)

Joaquin Phoenix’s Split Personalities

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

How many of you caught Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman? You can watch it on YouTube if you missed it. Ben Stiller even parodied it on the Academy Awards telecast.

Wearing a bushy Hasidic beard, Phoenix mumbled his way through the Letterman interview like a man on heavy drugs. Ol’ Dave concluded the one-sided session by saying, “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”

This from a guy who had been nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal of Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line.” You’d think he could have convincingly played the part of a guest on a TV talk show.

Goes to prove the dichotomy between actors and the roles they play. We see them on-screen as articulate characters, but in real life they have no script to follow.

Despite his awkward personal persona, Joaquin is arguably one of our finest young actors. Remember him in “Gladiator,” “Hotel Rwanda,” and “We Own the Night.”
He gives a subtle – albeit downer – performance in “Two Lovers,” the drama that’s still playing at the Tropic Cinema.

“Two Lovers” introduces us to a depressed young man (Phoenix) who lives with his parents and works in their Brighton Beach dry cleaning business. Mom and Dad would like to see him marry a nice Jewish girl (Vinessa Shaw), but he has an eye for the pretty blonde shiksa (Gwyneth Paltrow) who lives in the apartment across the way. As it turns out, being embroiled in a dead-end affair with a married man, the girl of his dreams is more screwed up than he is … if that’s possible.

Written and directed by James Gray (“Little Odessa”), this is a bleak drama with a predictable ending. Even so, it’s an acerbic character study that’s worth the 110 minutes of your attention.
Isabella Rosellini plays the all-seeing Jewish mother who worries about her son. Moni Moshonov is the father who would like to merge dry cleaning concerns through a convenient marriage.

Joaquin Phoenix lets you see inside his psyche, like an Amazing Transparent Man. But in the end, there’s not much inside the Jewish dry cleaner who longs for what he cannot have.
He and Gwyneth Paltrow play well against each other. But the characters’ self-defeating actions make me want to call them “Two Losers” rather than “Two Lovers.”
[from Solares Hill]

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