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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Two Lovers

Amidst all the hoopla over Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre Letterman appearance, I’d like to take a moment to talk about something nicer: the movie Phoenix is ostensibly doing interviews to promote, James Gray’s Two Lovers. I saw Two Lovers back at Cannes, and it was one of my favorites of the fest.
It’s a beautiful, thoughtful film, well acted by Phoenix and the two women he has to choose from: Gwyneth Paltrow as the blonde, lovely shikseh to Leonard’s neurotic Jew and Vinessa Shaw as the plainer, nice Jewish girl whose father wants to broker a business deal with Leonard’s dad. Isabella Rosellini has a heart-wrending turn as Leonard’s mom, the one person who both understands her son and encourages him to pursue the path that will make him happy.
Phoenix is at his best as the tormented Leonard, who has to make a choice between two lovers and the two paths each choice would lead him down while Gray deftly manuveurs the ups and downs of Leonard’s manic-depressive personality as he pursues relationships with both Sandra and Michelle.
Two Lovers is a great Valentine’s date film, especially if you and your mate or date are sick of romantic comedies. Grey’s film is insightful and smar. Michelle (Paltrow) is edgy and fun, and when he’s with her, Leonard lets lose his inner wild side in a way we never see in any other aspect of his life; his moments with Michelle he’s living life in technicolor, and the rest of his life is shades of grey. Sandra (Shaw)reflects the pull Leonard feels to live an ordinary life, in particular, to live a life where he’s not teetering on the edge of falling apart.
And Leonard is falling apart, following the loss of the woman he loved and was engaged to marry, when they both tested positive for the gene that causes Tay Sachs syndrome. He’s a fractured man, and the two women who come into his life, the choices he makes, and the experiences he has with each of them, ultimately shape the path he goes down.
Phoenix’s performance is so good, it makes you feel both sad and intrigued about whatever the hell path he’s on right now, be it performance art, or an elaborate hoax, or a tragic unraveling of a talented actor. I loved him in this film. If everyone who’s watched the Letterman thing on YouTube would go out and see Phoenix in Two Lovers this weekend, the film would make some serious bank.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon