Two Lovers - Joaquin Phoenix stars as a troubled young man torn between two women in James Gray’s romantic melodrama

Joaquin!? Why did you do it? Why give up acting to become a beardy rapper?  Why, why, why?

As you’ll recall, Joaquin Phoenix announced last year that he was quitting the film business in favour of a new career in hip-hop. If he sticks to his guns – and there are those who suggest the whole business is an elaborate prank – then his last screen role will have been in director James Gray’s romantic melodrama Two Lovers.

Two Lovers - Joaquin Phoenix & Vinessa Shaw star in James Gray’s romantic melodrama

He gives a typically intense performance in Gray’s movie as the troubled Leonard, a young man who finds himself torn between two women in the painful aftermath of splitting up with his fiancée. His anxious mum and dad try to set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the sympathetic daughter of a family friend, but Leonard can’t stop himself falling for new neighbour Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) the beautiful but unstable woman who’s just taken the apartment upstairs from his parents’ home in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

Two Lovers - Gwyneth Paltrow & Joaquin Phoenix star in James Gray’s romantic melodrama

Best known until now for his Brooklyn-set crime movies Little Odessa, The Yards and We Own the Night, Gray has made a thoughtful and sensitive chamber piece, and he gets a fine performance from Phoenix, who conveys his character’s anguish and heartache with deep feeling. But the movie is seriously hampered by its casting – Paltrow’s Michelle is supposed to be damaged yet irresistible, but how on earth Leonard could possibly prefer her irritating neurotic over Shaw’s gorgeous, grounded Sandra is as big a mystery as Phoenix’s career switch. Please Joaquin, as Two Lovers proves, it’s cinema’s loss, not music’s gain.

Two Lovers is released on DVD by Lionsgate and is currently showing on FilmFlex until 9th December.

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