2009-03-20 / Entertainment/Lifestyles

MovieScope

'Two Lovers' - Phoenix Rising

More tragic than his character in the film, "Two Lovers," would be the consummation of a "threat" by actor Joaquin Phoenix: That "Two Lovers" will be his last role.

The talented thespian tried to prove the sincerity of his announced career change into the world of country-rock music by appearing on a TV talk show bearded, draggled and disoriented. Comic/actor Ben Stiller spoofed his exhibition on the recent Academy Awards Show.

Phoenix's performance in "Two Lovers" is nothing short of Oscar-worthy. It should have his agent, his fans and the public in general begging him to stay the course of his film-acting career.

A seemingly low-key romantic drama, "Two Lovers" follows a thirtysomething wayward young man, Leonard Kraditor (Phoenix), as he struggles with his bipolar demons, parents, career direction and two potential girlfriends. After failed attempts at suicide and marriage, Leonard is back living with his parents, Reuben and Ruth (Moni Moshonov and Isabella Rossellini), in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where he makes a pretense of working for his father's dry-cleaning business.

He is so unmotivated that he can barely rouse himself in the morning. Still, his father has high hopes that he will carry on his business and marry the daughter of another dry-cleaning owner, with whose business Reuben wants to merge. The daughter, Sandra Cohen (Vinessa Shaw), is kind, understanding, intelligent and beautiful, a dream come true for everyone, even Leonard…almost.

In addition to his demons, Leonard is plagued with half-baked aspirations. He's a somewhat talented photographer, tempted to take on a bohemian lifestyle.

That chance comes in the form of Michelle (Gwyneth Paltow), a gorgeous goy, who has moved upstairs in his parents' apartment building. She is an unstable, pill-popping party animal, subsidized by a rich lawyer, Ronald Blatt (Elias Koteas), whom she loves and plays the reluctant role of mistress. Though Sandra is pursuing him, Leonard finds himself falling in love with Michelle. The story culminates with Leonard's "Big Decision": Living the stable life with Sandra in Brooklyn or winging away to wild San Francisco with Michelle.

Phoenix paints a deeply textured and heart-felt portrait that could make him the new James Dean. He has already played Johnny Cash. I hope he doesn't want to be him.

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