The enigma of why--when given the choice of a lover who's a normal human being or one who's mentally unstable--we often choose the really screwed-up one, is explored in Two Lovers, a romantic drama from director James Gray. Simply put, the people we choose to inhabit our lives are a reflection of our own state of being.
When we meet Leonard Kraditor, (Joaquin Phoenix) he has just jumped into the bay near his Brighton Beach Brooklyn home. Leonard, who works in his father's dry cleaning business, is bi-polar and has tried to do himself in before. Having second thoughts, he rises to the surface and is rescued by some good Samaritans.
Things look up for Lenny from there as first he meets Sandra, (Vinessa Shaw) the daughter of his dad's potential business partner. Sandra is attractive and sweet natured. She goes for Leonard, and soon considers him to be her boyfriend. Both families are pleased, as this will be good for business. Then Leonard discovers Michelle, (Gwyneth Paltrow) his quirky neighbor, who wants to be friends. Michelle is the prototypical lost soul. She ingests a lot of "E." She is a user--not only of drugs--but of people. She's a kept woman, her apartment paid for by Ronald, (Elias Koteas) the married attorney with whom she's having an ongoing relationship. Ronald's not much to look at, but he gets better looking every time her rent comes due.
Leonard goes out clubbing with Michelle and some of her friends. He is smitten by this wild girl. WHY? Because he's a glutton for PUNISHMENT. He wants someone to lead him on--to use him for their own sick reasons, then kick him to the gutter so that he feels like a royal piece of DOG SH*T. YEAH...IT HURTS SO GOOD! Uh...don't let me get carried away. But male or female, you know you've been there.
Leonard keeps the balancing act with Sandra and Michelle going--until the stakes are raised when Michelle tells him she's leaving Ronald and skipping off to San Francisco. Michelle acknowledges that she's screwed-up. Lenny talks her into letting him come along, saying he's just as screwed-up as she is, and thus able to understand her. Then they have sex, standing upright against a wall (sure...they make it look so EASY!) Later, the moment of truth arrives, with Leonard waiting patiently for Michelle to show up for their intended getaway.
Joaquin Phoenix is convincing as a damaged but playfully good natured guy--a trait that, above all else, can help to save him from himself. And Paltrow is a totally believable space case.
As I've mentioned before, a terrific music score--or even a montage of scenes with a great piece of music underneath--carries a lot of weight with me in the final assessment of a film. In Two Lovers, it's Henry Mancini's elegant "Lujon" (which was given lyrics and re-titled "Slow Hot Wind" when Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 recorded it.) It's a dreamy piece of music that carries Leonard through the city and into his "friendly" dinner date with Michelle and Ronald.
When I was growing up, most people seemed NORMAL--now, whomever you run into is likely as not to be playing with less than a full deck. (How and why this has come about is fodder for a different discussion.) Two Lovers is an engrossing character study of some of the "functional dysfunctional" in our society of the 21st century.
In the end: (to paraphrase the Rolling Stones) You can't always get what you want...but sometimes, you get what you need.