You know you’re in for a jolly ol’ timewhen a film begins with the main character attempting suicide.
And so we meet the troubled Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix). He leads a claustrophobic existence on Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, living at home with his straight-laced Jewish parents andworking for his father’s drycleaning business, spending his days dreaming of escape. However, things begin to look upwhen he’s set up with the beautiful daughter of his father’s business associate (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet, caring girl who could offer him a real future.
Unfortunately, Leonard’s too busy falling for his glamorous, unstable and ditzy neighbour, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who uses Leonard as a shoulder to cry on in between fights with her married boyfriend. It’s the small details that make this modest film stand out: Joaquin Phoenix’s gentle portrayal of a desperate and depressed man (sadly still acknowledged as his swan song in favour of a music career); director James Gray’s muted, dull colour palette; the accurately observed social settings and situations. For a director most closely associated with tales of gangland (The Yards and We OwnThe Night), here James Gray effortlessly tackles the romantic melodrama. A complete auteur, he is one of the film world’s most underrated directors. Much like the film, the extras are decidedly minimalist: just a commentary and deleted scenes.