When you are watching a movie, it is so easy to see all of the things that the characters don't see, both in each other and in themselves. You can see the beginning of their mistakes. You can see their flaws. Sometimes you can even see who they really are as well as the masks they put on for those around them. Having this all seeing privilege can be incredibly frustrating and sometimes it's sad.
Of course, in real life we don't have the benefit of having an audience that sees everything we do and knows everything we feel. This is why it's so much easier to see your friends make mistakes and bad decisions before they do. The viewer has a broader perspective and they aren't clouded by the feelings that drive us to make our decisions. Plus, you draw on your own experiences that tell you, this is not the best idea. It's very hard to get this through to someone else.
Two Lovers (2008) opens with Leonard (Joaquin Pheonix) at the beginning of a suicide attempt. He falls into the bay in Brooklyn from a pier but he changes his mind and resurfaces. He is spotted by some people passing by and pulled from the water. When he stands up quickly and announces, "I gotta go." One of the people just says, "Aren't you gonna thank this guy? He just saved your life." It is clear right away that Leonard is pretty awkward and stuck inside his head.
Leonard lives with his parents (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov). They both love him very much, this is not a guess. It's obvious and I am certain of this. When he comes home wet and doesn't tell them what happened, his mother says to her husband, "I think he tried it again." So we know that he has a history of emotional issues. More of his back story is later revealed and we understand why he the way he is.
I've spent so much time describing Leonard and his parents, but that is just a small part of the big picture. His dad is in the process of selling the family business, which Leonard works for as a delivery guy. Leonard is introduced to the daughter of the soon-to-be owners. Her name is Sandra. This is such a wonderful performance given by Vinessa Shaw. They hit it off, but Leonard is timid and doesn't make much of the meeting. The next day, he meets Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) whom he is drawn to immediately.
The title is slightly misleading. I got the feeling that the time frame of the movie wasn't very long. So, he never really had a lot of time to get super close to either of the women. Saying that he has two lovers would imply that he is cheating. I guess this is left up to the viewer. But I don't think that Leonard thinks he's cheating on anyone. If Sandra knew about Michelle, It might be a different matter. Leonard is confused and emotionally broken, this we know. But when he is faced with the excitement of being with Michelle, he likes it. She is unpredictable. She also seems to like drama. She calls him at weird hours and expects him to come take care of her whenever she's feeling needy. On the other hand, Michelle offers stability. She is grounded and a good person. She genuinely wants to take care of Leonard (which he seems to need) and make him happy.
Director/Writer James Gray has made a very good movie. He could have easily made a typical romantic comedy, but instead he gives us real people struggling to navigate their lives, and the parents who are helpless in making things happen for them. There are no clichés in this film. There is so much insight. If only we could all step back and look at our lives from the outside, all of the answers would probably seem so clear.