It's a shame Joaquin Phoenix went nuts.
When the talented actor, who had previously starred in 'Gladiator,' 'Signs,' and 'Walk the Line,' made his infamous appearance on David Letterman's late night talk show as a bearded, gum-chewing sideshow, he belittled his entire career and left us all wondering if it wasn't just some kind of bizarre, Andy Kaufman-esque performance piece. But the biggest crime of that entire fiasco was that nobody knew what the dude was actually promoting. As it happens, it was a really great little movie called 'Two Lovers.'
In 'Two Lovers,' Phoenix stars as Leonard, a man-boy who, following the dissolution of his engagement, tries to commit suicide. We soon learn that he still lives at home, with his parents (played wonderfully by Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov), and that he has a history of psychological problems, but has grown fearful and distrustful of medication.
Leonard's parents own a dry cleaners and they are being wooed by some folks who want to purchase the store and the building where the business is located. The daughter of these potential purchasers, Sandra (played by Vanessa Shaw (from 'Eyes Wide Shut' and the underrated '3:10 to Yuma' remake) takes a liking to Leonard. At the same time, a woman named Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), moves into Leonard's apartment building.
Michelle is, to use a popular phrase right now, a "hot mess." She seems to have had a history of drug abuse, is involved in an unhealthy relationship with a married man (played, in an extended cameo, really, by the always great Elias Koteas). She's everything that Sandra is not. Sandra, on the other hand, is reliable, nice, stable, and compassionate. But even as he gets more entangled with Sandra, Leonard finds himself hopelessly drawn to Michelle, even though she sees him as little more than a buddy.
As the film progresses, things get more and more complicated, all the while maintaining an air of complete authenticity. There's a realism here that is striking and wonderful. These characters are so richly etched, the situations so naturalistic, that you really do get swept up in it. It's not structured in any way like a thriller, but there's a kind of breathless 'what will happen next?' way of experiencing this movie that rivals any suspense piece I've seen this year.
Writer-direct James Gray has done an amazing job with this film. It's gorgeously shot, beautifully edited, and features such standout performances by the cast (who were undoubtedly working for nothing) that you can't help but want to thank him personally for creating one of the year's best movies. Maybe you can write him an email that says, 'Thank you for releasing this movie in the dreadful year of 2009. It sort of offsets stuff like 'Wolverine.' Almost. Oh, and sorry Joaquin didn't show the finished film the respect it deserved.'
The 'Two Lovers' disc comes equipped with a sturdy 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer (2.40: 1 aspect ratio). The movie takes place during winter and autumn and is filled with stark compositions that look pretty damn great in high definition. This isn't really a movie that dazzles you visually, but it's one that is noticeably well shot and executed and it's nice to have such a pristine presentation here.
Elsewhere, skin tones are uniformly excellent, blacks are deep and dark, and the image is mostly crisp and clean. There are some instances of noticeable grain, and there are a few moments of crush, but these rarely pull you out of the emotional center of the story, which is really the most important thing here.
There isn't a flashy color scheme here, with lots of garish hues that pop off the screen. Instead, there's a more subdued, quieter palette at work and for the most part this disc pulls it off beautifully. It's easy to overlook solid work if it's housed inside a more mundane package, but that doesn't mean it shouldn’t be applauded. Overall, this is a lovely transfer for a lovely movie.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track here is solid but not exactly spectacular. This is probably one of the quieter movies I've seen in a while. That said, it takes a delicate touch to pull off a mix that is audible, clean, and crisp. And that is accomplished here.
Things are mostly front and center, as you're almost solely listening to dialogue. (There is a brief club scene, which will get your speakers pumping, but only for a minute.) Phoenix's character sometimes mumbles, and yet you can always understand him (unlike on Letterman). Things may be somewhat barren on the audio front, but it's still a well-done and listenable mix.
There are no other audio options on this disc, however there are subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
Magnolia has put a nice (if not all together noteworthy) collection of special features together, most of which are disappointingly in standard definition.
I was really taken aback by how wonderful this movie was. 'Two Lovers' is as satisfying and realistically rendered as any romantic drama in recent memory and easily one of the most accomplished films of 2009. It's heavy without being grim, funny without being jokey, and warm without being cutesy. While the Blu-ray leaves a bit to be desired, it's still anchored by strong audio and video and a smattering of interesting special features. Still, when a movie's this good, everything else is just window dressing. Recommended.