The plot of “Two Lovers” is pretty standard romantic comedy fare. Joaquin Phoenix has to choose between two beautiful women. One, Vinessa Shaw, is a friend of the family, her father a business associate of his father. She’s a good Jewish girl, and his parents approve. She tells him she wants to take care of him, which is good, because his mental well-being seems a bit fragile. Marrying her would be good for the family business.
On the other hand, there’s Gwenyth Paltrow. She lives across the way, and he watches her out of his bedroom window. She is addicted to something or other, in love with a married man, in need of somewhat to take care of her. She’s also beautiful, exotic and exciting. Hmm… which should he choose?
Except here’s the catch: “Two Lovers” is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a standard romantic comedy. Instead of caricatures we get characters; instead of paint-by-numbers scenes we get richly imagined, deeply felt moments. Don’t underestimate this; it changes everything. Because the characters feel real, Phoenix’ moment-by-moment choices feel believable. And because there is no bad or good choice here, the actual choices feel agonizing. This is not comedy, but romance. Real world, broken relationship, messed up romance.