Two Lovers, directed by James Gray, was released just two years ago. Given the plot, I'd have thought that key characters like Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) should be about 10 years younger than they actually are. Maybe it's just a sign of the times and I'm a curmudgeon.
Leonard is a troubled young man, who, at the beginning of the film makes a half-hearted suicide attempt by jumping into Sheepshead Bay. We learn he's moved back in with his parents, who own a successful dry-cleaning store, and he's taking anti-depressants. He works in his parents' shop and to see him interacting with other employees, he seems like a happy, well-adjusted guy. A somewhat matronly-looking but patrician Isabella Rossellini portrays his concerned mother.
His parents decide to "merge" their business with a prospering businessman who already owns several dry-cleaning establishments in various areas of New York. The businessman and his family come to dinner one evening, which is how Leonard meets Sandra, the daughter. He reveals to her that he was engaged and with the discovery that both he and his fiancée carry the gene for Tay-Sachs disease the engagement was broken off, and the fiancée moved away.
One day while returning home from work, Leonard meets his neighbor, Michelle, in the hallway. He can hear a male voice yelling at Michelle, and offers her refuge in his family's apartment when Michelle tells him it's her father and he's angry with her. Michelle enjoys chatting and commenting on the features of Leonard's family's apartment, while making Leonard's mother visibly tense. She leaves, but tells Leonard she believes she can see his room from her apartment. Intrigued, Leonard looks out his bedroom window and discovers he can indeed see Michelle when she's in her kitchen and then in another room of her apartment.
Leonard finds himself caught between his attraction to Michelle, who is gorgeous and somewhat exotic (her "father" is actually not her father, but a lover who furnishes an apartment for her as part of "the deal") and Sandra, who is a "safe" choice, attractive, and has won over his parents' hearts with the full support of her own family.
Everything in this film is fairly understated. There are no loud colors in the clothing or furniture or scenery or landscapes. Despite the fact Ms. Paltrow's character is probably the most extroverted in the ensemble, even she doesn't wear anything bright, vivid or even pastel. This is also reflected in Leonard's avocation of photography, as he uses an old camera given to him by his father, and takes black and white photos. Likewise the performances are not larger than life, which may be an attempt to make them more believable. Most of the time this would work. I felt that the film needed a bit more energy. Nevertheless, all the characters are well-drawn, and most are also very likeable. As a whole I felt that the film was very believeable.