34. Two Lovers (2008) [Rated R for language, some sexuality and brief drug use.]
summary from imdb.com:
A Brooklyn-set romantic drama about a bachelor (Phoenix) torn between the family friend his parents wish he would marry and his beautiful but volatile new neighbor.
directed by: James Gray
starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Moni Moshonov, Isabella Rossellini, Elias Koteas
[speaking on the phone:]
Gwyneth Paltrow: Leonard?
Joaquin Phoenix: I saw you called me. What do you want?
Gwyneth: I’m sorry. I know you don’t wanna talk to me, but I don’t know what else to do. I’m not feeling well.
Joaquin: What’s wrong?
Gwyneth: I was supposed to go to the doctor today. I’m, I’m at home now. Ron was supposed to take me but I don’t know where he is. I’ve started bleeding really bad a few hours ago.
Joaquin: You’re bleeding?
Gwyneth: I may need to go to the hospital, but I’m afraid to go by myself. Can you come with me please?
Joaquin: Yeah. I’ll come.
Gwyneth: Thank you so much, Leonard.
[scene change, they are now together]
Joaquin: Hey, what are you doing down here? What happened?
Gwyneth: I don’t feel very well. I’m scared something’s gonna happen.
[scene change to hospital:]
Nurse: The doctor had to perform a D&C. She miscarried. She wasn’t aware that she was pregnant until she came in today.
Joaquin: They said that you’re okay and that’s what’s important.
Gwyneth Paltrow: I’m not going. I’m not going. He left his family for me. He told his wife everything. He says he wants us to get married. I finally let him know about my miscarriage and that really changed things for him. Leonard, you’re such a wonderful person. But he left them for me. I gotta give it a chance.
In my last movie review, I applauded the writers (Lynn Barber and Nick Hornby) behind An Education for not rehashing the same old story of a woman getting Bovarized for pursuing an ill-advised romance. (Getting Bovarized is a term I’m doing my best to popularize. It means to gravely punish a fictional character for fulfilling a sexual desire, like Madame Bovary gets punished in the novel of the same name by Gustave Flaubert.)
I recently saw another movie called Two Lovers that surprised and delighted me just as much as An Education, because it did not Bovarize the male lead for his romantic misjudgements. (I’m also trying to bring back the word delighted into more general usage.)
In Two Lovers, a guy named Leonard played by Joaquin Phoenix is living with his parents following a suicide attempt caused by a broken engagement. Dulled by psych meds, he falls into a romance with Sandra, the daughter of his father’s business partner, played by Vinessa Shaw. She’s very interested in him and they do sleep together, it’s just not so much a two-way street. At the same time, he falls in love with Michelle, played by Gwenith Paltrow, a semi-in-recovery party girl having an affair with a married man.
(Sorry that I have to ruin the ends of movies when I review them, but it’s in the endings that most storytellers choose to tell the same old stories rather than bravely telling a fresh one. So I kind of have to do it this way.)
In the third act of the movie, Michelle gets an abortion and breaks up with the married guy. Leonard takes care of her and ultimately screws her on a stairway landing. High on lust and on the idea that he’s found someone just as ###### up as himself, he decides to skip his mother’s new year’s party and elope with Michelle. She shows up to tell him that she’s not coming because the married guy has left his wife and she’s going to give that relationship a chance.
Leonard walks to the beach, discards the ring he bought to propose to Michelle, contemplates suicide, is reminded Sandra, who does love him (by a mechanism I won’t describe if only to leave you at least one surprise in the movie). He then retrieves the ring, returns to the new years party, proposes to Sandra; she accepts, and that’s the end.
There were so many great things about this movie. First, neither Phoenix’s nor Paltrow’s were Bovarized. Second, though the married guy isn’t painted as a saint, he doesn’t get portrayed as a war criminal either. And while his fulfillment of the promise to leave the wife might sound like a nauseating Pretty Woman–style fairy tale, it’s not. It’s more of a plot point that gets Michelle out of the way without killing her or making her out to be evil, so that Leonard can have his final crisis.
Second, the movie ends with many secrets unrevealed. Lazy writers use what I call soap-opera ethics to drive their stories. (I’m not calling soap opera writers lazy by the way. They’re anything but. Soap operas just happen to work by creating secrets and driving the plot by revealing them. That’s the genre. Movie and novel writers don’t have to use this mechanism, but lazy ones still do.)
On top of this, it’s one of the only Hollywood movies I’ve seen since the seventies that doesn’t punish a woman for having an abortion or portray abortion to be a terrible choice. Despite the probable pro-abortion-rights leanings of most Hollywood types, all Hollywood movies in my memory reject abortion as an acceptable option (Juno, Knocked Up, and on and on) and women who have gotten abortions in the past invariably regret it and talk about it as a selfish choice.
Michelle gets the abortion. She’s sad that the married guy isn’t there to take care of her afterwards. Phoenix does take care of her. Then it’s over. That’s all that’s said about it. Probably the most realistic portrayal of an abortion I’ve seen on film.
Finally, I love the portrayal of love in this movie. Two Lovers is almost a side-by-side comparison of love vs. in love. We understand why Leonard falls in love with Michelle, but we hope he ends up with Sandra because she loves him with the kind of mature admiration and caring that can last them the rest of their lives. In times of crisis, Michelle needs him, which is intoxicating, but she never wants him like Sandra does.
When he brushes the sand off the ring box meant for Michelle and gives it to Sandra, it felt like the movie was daring the audience to think that he was settling for less, daring us to look at Sandra as pathetic or second-best for unknowingly accepting a ring meant for another woman.
I didn’t think either. Watching Leonard and Sandra hug on the couch in the closing scene, I was reminded of those moments in a relationship where, suddenly mindful of your own weaknesses and faults and pettinesses and failures, you look across a room and wonder, “How could she possibly love me?” It was a beautiful recreation of that moment and a beautiful portrait of love.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Michelle, a woman who is dating a partner at the law firm where she works, a man who is a married father. Joaquin Phoenix (hot!), plays Leonard, Michelle’s neighbor, who is falling in love with Michelle, even though he’s dating another lady, Sandra. Michelle and Leonard start spending more time together and one day she calls him because she’s sick and needs to go the hospital. At the hospital she finds out she is pregnant from the married guy she’s dating, and she’s having a miscarriage. The doctor performs a D & C (abortion) to complete the miscarraige.
Actresses Blythe Danner and Gwyneth Paltrow came under fire last year for exploiting Mother’s Day to raise funds for Planned Parenthood. The two sent out an email fundraiser for the nation’s largest abortion business urging abortion activists to take the group up on a Mother’s Day fundraising challenge.