Leonard Kraditor (Phoenix) is a troubled young man. Not long after a failed suicide attempt, he meets two attractive women and things seem to be looking up. However, not only does Leonard have a bipolar disorder to contend with but he’s also living with his parents which brings its own challenges, not least because they are instrumental in setting him up with Sandra (Shaw).
Sandra is sweet, bright and straight-forward but Leonard is far keener on Michelle (Paltrow), a new neighbour to the area. She is beautiful, glamorous and predictably, trouble. Michelle is having an affair with a married man and sees Leonard as nothing more than a confidante, so naturally he falls in love with her. Despite, or perhaps because of this, he begins a relationship with Sandra. Eventually, with her own relationship in tatters, Michelle seeks out Leonard for support, sending him into an emotional tailspin.
For a film about love, it’s a far cry from the usual rom-coms churned out by Hollywood. And although it’s by no means a comedy, it’s far funnier than most comedies, with some hilarious moments. This is partly credit to James Gray and Richard Menello’s witty script and realistic dialogue, but also to Joaquin Phoenix who plays Leonard with an endearing, almost child-like innocence. Shaw is subtle and sympathetic as Sandra while Paltrow provides solid support as the highly-strung Michelle. But it’s Isabella Rossellini and Moni Monoshov as Leonard’s parents who almost steal the show with their understated performances, at once concerned and confused by their son’s increasingly erratic behaviour.
Set and beautifully shot in a wintry Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, this is a side of New York rarely seen on film. This ambience adds to the melancholic and slightly desperate feel of the story and is another expertly judged element of an already impressive drama. Funny, sad and ultimately moving, this is a love story with real heart.