"The cinema is cruel like a miracle." -Frank O'Hara

Two Lovers [James Gray, 2009]


James Gray’s Two Lovers is among other things, an austerely beautiful portrait of NYC-neighborhood that doesn’t get much screen-time: Brighton Beach. Gray manages to capture the distinctive look and feel of this largely residential Russian enclave, which also resonates with the Dostoevsky-inspired plot of the film. When asked what attracts him to the location, Gray responded:

“It has the surface texture of urban life. The layers of Brooklyn are fabulous. You can sense the history of the community. Brighton Beach is so ugly that it’s beautiful. History is an accumulation of detail, and I want to make a film with a sense of it.”

These beautifully ugly true-to-life details — these are what we risk losing when New York succumbs to hyper-gentrification, and the unique flavor of different neighborhoods evaporates into thin air. I can’t think of a film from the recent past that records these surface details of the city so well. Could this be because fewer films are being shot on location in New York or because these details are being eradicated all together? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Gwyneth Paltrow and the dark, smoky patina of a subway platform

Joaquin Phoenix in front of Cafe Volna and Tatiana, two mainstays along the boardwalk

Brighton Cleaners, where Joaquin Phoenix’s character Leonard works, is a real-life business. The facade bears the mark of grime, soot and weather.

Category: film reviews, new york

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3 Responses

  1. Two Lovers is one of the great underappreciated films of 2009. I really enjoyed seeing Brighton Beach in a movie for some reason. Maybe because it is one of the great underappreciated neighborhoods of New York City.

  2. Bryan Land says:

    It seems like these days, mostly rom-coms are shot here. Due in part to the whole Sex In The City phenom. But there’s hardly a more unique city on the planet. So much history and more flavors than a Vegas buffet.

  3. Jack says:

    Thanks for posting and highlighting this. As Bryn points out, NYC is a standard location for rom-coms and such. But for someone to produce a romantic drama in Brighton Beach is quite unusual and truly appreciated. I grew up in Brighton Beach—born in 1968—and watched the neighborhood transition from a mixed lower class NYC neighborhood to the Little Odessa it is now. And I’ve always lamented the fact that few people who grew up there actually appreciated the place. It’s truly thrilling to see someone actually appreciate the neighborhood for what it is/was: An amazing slice of NYC that is simultaneously weird and beautiful at the same time.

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