You know that person who, at all times, is manufacturing their next 1,000 crises and needing constant attention and rescue and affirmation but offers nearly nothing in return? Maybe they're sort of exhilarating and magnetic and you can't help but want to be around them, until one day you realize that they've never asked you one single question about yourself and you are an exhausted, moldy shipwreck? This is a movie about that person completely fucking up someone's life.
This is also the movie for which Joaquin Phoenix has been doing all of his insane, beardy, seemingly drug-scrambled press. You can see some of the same alarming, unhinged tics in Leonard, the character he plays in Two Lovers—but Leonard is supposed to be slightly unhinged, whereas Phoenix is supposed to be just pretending. (One suspects he is not.)
A broken engagement sends Leonard—the sad, spazzy, but inescapably likable heir to a Brighton Beach dry-cleaning business—on a few long walks off a few short piers, then to a mental hospital, then back to his parents' humble two-bedroom apartment where, round-shouldered, he shuffles around the neighborhood taking pictures of human-less storefronts. He strikes up a romance with sweet, reliable Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), while at the same time becoming obsessed with his flighty, manipulative neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow—are you interested in seeing one of her boobs? Because congrats...), the luminous life-ruiner described above.
Two Lovers is a smart, accurate, deftly constructed film—a catalog of the frustrating, obsessive minutiae of doomed relationships and unattainable crushes. All of the performances are excellent (did I mention that Isabella Rossellini—bonus!—plays Leonard's mom?), and the conflicts are absolutely relatable. That does not make it pleasant to watch. As Leonard rushes, over and over, into Michelle's emotional traps ("Could you write something on my arm with your finger while I fall asleep?" she murmurs, fully aware of his feelings), you just want to grab everyone by their shoulders and shake, shake, shake. Because we all know that person, don't we? Ugh.