Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 2008. 2929 Productions, Wild Bunch, Tempesta Films. Screenplay by James Gray, Ric Menello. Cinematography by Joaquin Baca-Asay. Produced by Donna Gigliotti, James Gray, Anthony Katagas. Production Design by Happy Massee. Costume Design by Michael Clancy. Film Editing by John Axelrad. Cannes Film Festival 2008. Independent Spirit Awards 2009.
James Gray follows his richly atmospheric We Own The Night with a romance as aesthetically pleasing as it is emotionally stirring. Joaquin Phoenix plays a casualty of love who is struggling with bipolar disorder and living once again with his Russian Jewish parents in Brooklyn. His parents introduce him to a nice girl (Vinessa Shaw) who actually turns out to be worthwhile, at the same time that he meets and becomes deeply involved with the damaged shikse upstairs (Gwyneth Paltrow) who is having an affair with a married man (Elias Koteas). Phoenix knows what’s good for him, but his connection with Paltrow runs deep and, once their friendship has become intense, he cannot avoid wanting to take it to the next level. Gray can hardly compose a shot that isn’t stunning, but doesn’t give short shrift to the electric charge between all the characters here; Phoenix, who gives his very best performance, has resonant encounters with everyone who shares the screen with him, even his concerned (but not oppressive) parents. His last scene with Isabella Rossellini is a masterful touch of parental tenderness after all the turgid passion we’ve been experiencing. I wouldn’t accuse it of utter realism (especially considering that girls are never this pretty in real life, are they?), but its combination of joy and pain, and its assertion that compromise does not equal misery, are elements that audiences will respond to as genuine.