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updated 03/02/2009 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/02/2009 AT 01:00 AM EST

Two Lovers

Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini | R |

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DRAMA
Lost in the brouhaha over Joaquin Phoenix's recent wacko public appearances and his claim that he's forsaking movie stardom to become a rap singer (all strongly suspected to be a hoax staged for a mockumentary he is filming) is the fact that he's a tremendously gifted actor. When it comes to playing wounded souls, as he does in this softhearted intimate drama, he hurts so good.

Phoenix movingly portrays Leonard, an emotionally fragile but likable young man with bipolar disorder who lives with his parents in Brooklyn. Leonard is conflicted over his attraction to two women: a neurotic glamour girl (Paltrow, all jangly-nerved need) already involved with a married man, and a more grounded, supportive type (Shaw), of whom his parents approve. Directed and cowritten with quiet assurance by James Gray (with whom Phoenix made The Yards and We Own the Night), Two Lovers follows Leonard's halting attempts at figuring out his heart and his future. Like all of us, he eventually comes to understand that sometimes you have to get on with life, even when life doesn't match up with your dreams.

 

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