So, here is the review:
Over at ‘The Film Experience’, Nathanial Rogers (possibly the best Oscar internet blogger out there) has been posting a “Best In Show” column for certain actors (or actresses) in films and while watching ‘Two Lovers’ I felt inspired to write my own.
When considering the film ‘Two Lovers’, first time viewers may immediately suspect that the two Oscar names (Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow) would be the obvious choices for ‘best is show’ praise, but upon the actual viewing it is apparent that there is one performance so subtle yet so alarmingly in tune with her character that one cannot help but obsess over her.
Yes, I’m talking about Vinessa Shaw.
Vinessa plays Sandra, a young and kind hearted woman who seeks out a relationship with Leonard. Sandra’s father has recently conducted a business merger with Leonard’s father, and after a brief observance (Sandra sees Leonard asking his mother to dance while at work) she asks her father to set up a meeting between them. She thinks he is cute. Leonard has problems (serious ones that involve the cancellation of a wedding and multiple suicide attempts) but these are aspects of his tortured soul that intrigue Sandra. She wants to help him, to heal him.
When they first meet her candor is endearing. She is not as shy or reclusive as Leonard, but she has a natural unnaturalness about her demeanor. When she feels that maybe her advances are not being met with approval she immediately recants, pulling back and apologizing for him, basically telling him not to worry about not wanting to ‘date’ her until he leans in and kisses her and she is consumed.
“Oh my god.” Those were her words. She utters that phrase twice in the film and both times carry so much internal weight.
As their relationship grows you can see a spark in Sandra, but that spark is corroded by a ‘knowing’, a sixth sense if you will, that something is not right. When Leonard is getting strange phone calls and becoming more and more reclusive, pulling away yet never saying what it is that is truly on his mind, you can see that Sandra knows, but she is unwilling to confront it for fear of losing him. She doesn’t want it to be real.
That’s why the second “oh my god” carries so much weight, because you can tell that she isn’t quite sure she believes her own eyes.
While ‘Two Lovers’ is, sadly, more about one lover (that lover being Michelle, the generically clichéd ‘troubled girl’), the one who stays with you through every frame is Sandra. Sure, she is vanilla while Michelle (Leonard’s drug addicted neighbor who is shacking up with a married man and almost instantaneously becomes Leonard’s sole obsession) is certainly not, but the textural approach that Shaw took to this character makes her scream to life. She understands how to make Sandra’s love for Leonard seem real and sincere.
Now that I’ve devoted much of my praise to a singular performer, I guess I should weigh in on the movie itself. While I found it stirring and most defiantly engaging, there are things about ‘Two Lovers’ that felt off kilter. Leonard as a character is a little two unstable and underdeveloped. We know there is tragedy there, and
does a remarkable job of balancing his characters ‘new life’ with the ‘old one’ (this is far from a melodramatic downer), but the script doesn’t really allow for us to KNOW who Leonard really is or understand why these women are so into him. I felt that shifting focus to the relationship between Leonard and Michelle was a mistake, for the real emotional crux of the film is between Leonard and Sandra. The ending, while not surprising (I totally saw that coming) can read a little false, but it also was one of those moments where, upon reflection, probably says more about Leonard as a person than any other moment in the film. Phoenix
He doesn’t really know what he wants.
The film is flawed, but it is also memorable. It is quiet yet it has moments that sting and stay with you. It also has Shaw. Oh how I weep for her lack of awards attention last year.
I gave this ****/***** or a B. It's pretty good, but outside of Shaw there isn't anything brilliant here.