Tuesday, April 7, 2009
by Lissette Decos So much time passes between the lights fading to black, the vulgar commercials, lotsa trailers, and the actual movie that when I found myself about to see Two Lovers I wondered for a moment, “Why am I seeing this movie?" I hadn’t seen a trailer, and the only article I had read was some lame detail about the unique locations its director had chosen. And then, all of a sudden, there was the reason walking across the screen... Joaquin. I love anything Joaquin Phoenix is in (preteen, angst-ridden Joaquin even made me love Parenthood). I was here because Joaquin says he has quit acting, and if that turns out to be true, this is his last film. If you’re like me, when you hear “two lovers” you’re like, “Wow, lucky you,” or “Can you spare some change?” But in this film, Joaquin’s two lovers represent his two conflicting sides. Both sides struggle with the question that children of immigrants in the United States must at one point ask themselves, “Am I American or am I Cuban? Am I Puerto Rican or am I...?” Well that’s actually a bad example. But you get the point. This question often weighs one down because one can’t really be both. In this film, JP - as I like to call him – is torn between obligations to his ethnic side, represented by his family (the tribe or the clan), and his American or individualistic side, the part of him that wants to break free from tradition and not suffer the fate of his boring folks. His lovers symbolically personify his struggle with these dual obligations. One lover (played subtly by Vinessa Shaw) represents the tribe. It’s no surprise that their first kiss is in front of the wall of portraits of all of the generations of JP’s clan in the film. The other lover is played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Her performance was impressive (but I would be uber-talented too if I got to make Chris Martin’s dinner once in a while). This lover represents the soul-searching free spirit who in actuality is a lost individual. She's the kind of person that makes up her own rules as she goes along, and then breaks them; the one that is cool, crazy and free, like surfers in California. American freedom is what JP wants more than anything in Two Lovers, and so he pines after Gwyn’s blond haired ideal. By the end of the film I couldn’t help but feel that these two lovers could also represent JP’s two careers. The clan girlfriend represents his acting career, his heritage, his safe success. Gwyn represents the rapper in him, the wild child without rules. My theory is not so far-fetched - in the film he raps and even break-dances to Gwyn. The funny thing is that to just about everyone on the planet (except maybe Obama), an actor’s life is amazing and incredible, but yet the life of a musician is somehow way cooler to actors. They don’t have to memorize no stupid lines. They don’t have to work so hard to act like someone else. With music, they can hide their cryptic selves behind their own lyrics instead. I believe the main reason is because after years of directors directing them; agents agenting them; interviews; and most of all, having to smile so much on red carpets, the only logical response is to pay for studio time and scream lyrics they wrote while on junkets into a microphone (this theory of mine is based on the astronomical number of actors that start rock bands and… on me taking a wild guess. Plus, I once saw Juliette Lewis perform with her band Juliette and the Licks. It was loud.). In Two Lovers, JP the actor is taken care of by the clan, kept safe and warm and showered with boring yet useful gifts like jobs and winter gloves. JP the rapper releases his individualistic side, does drugs, and has sex on rooftops. The latter sounds more rock-n-roll, yes? I hope so much that Two Lovers will not be Joaquin’s last film. That is, if we don’t count the mockumentary that Casey Affleck is supposedly filming of JP’s transference into rap life. I hope that in the end, this rap thing turns out to be a big joke, and that we get the punchline. I hope it turns out in real life for Joaquin like it does for his character in the film, a film which teaches that you can’t count on selfish, crazy, drug-using individuals. They will leave you out in the cold waiting with a suitcase full of dreams. But you can always count on the tribe. They will take you in even after you’ve been a total ass. Two Lovers is a great film. Take your two lovers to see it, that is, if you fall into that 4%*. Or if you’re like me, take a small popcorn and a box of Goobers. *Percentage number is based on wishful thinking.