This is the third film directed by James Gray which stars Joaquin Phoenix. Like their previous collaborations, "We Own the Night" and "The Yards", we are back in grim New York drama. I think this movie did relatively little business since it was released at about the time that Phoenix decided to go "weird" and re-invent himself as a rapper! This makes it his last movie to date. Although it was well-received by many of the few who saw it (its IMDb rating is mystifyingly high), I found it a very annoying film made more annoying by the two very annoying lead characters.
The film opens with a suicide attempt by Phoenix which we gather is not his first; he was apparently institutionalized after an earlier break-up with his fiancee, when genetic testing indicated that they could never have healthy children. Yes we are squarely in Tay-Sachs land, dealing with his Jewish family and that of his father's business associate. The latter hope that Phoenix will marry their daughter, the rather lovely Vinessa Shaw, who commits herself to him early on. He however is immediately smitten by new neighbour Gwyneth Paltrow -- a blonde vision of loveliness with whom he becomes more and more emotionally involved as she uses him as a sounding block to moan about her long-standing involvement with an older married man, played by Elias Koteas. It is obvious to even the dimmest viewer that Paltrow is a flake and that Phoenix risks both his relationship with Shaw and his family by giving in to her various whims.
I do wonder why this is meant to be an ethnic drama, although Paltrow who in fact is half-Jewish makes an attractive "shiksa"; the rest of the cast including Phoenix himself seem an unlikely assortment of Jews, although one can warm to his doting mother played by Isabella Rossellini. However their religion adds little to the story. While Phoenix has been relatively successful in some of his other roles, he comes across as a rather blah character here and there is nothing to explain his puppy-like devotion to Paltrow. When she announces that she is finally leaving Koteas and moving to San Francisco, he begs to go with her and promptly goes out to buy an engagement ring. When they are due to travel, she announces that Koteas is back on her terms and that Phoenix can forget about it. SPOILER: rather than waste the ring, he remembers that he has another "love" -- one who is in fact probably more suitable (to say nothing of more likeable). Boring, boring, boring and totally unbelievable.