Friday, June 6, 2014

What Is It with Joaquin Phoenix?

Today I saw the latest film featuring Joaquin Phoenix in a lead role.  It is The Immigrant, written and directed by Jonathan Gray, the story of a beautiful Polish immigrant to the United States who is met at Ellis Island by the Phoenix character.

The Immigrant
Marion Cotillard plays the immigrant, and the movie shows us her sufferings and indignities as a post World War I Polish emigre arriving in the United States.  Through it all, Cotillard (a good actress in other films) is beautiful and sorrowful and even goes to Candlemass mass and then confession to regain her purity.  She maintains a deep and sorrowful expression throughout.

Bruno Weiss, the Phoenix character, falls in love with her, exploits her and even kills for her.  The role is played with the physical grace and moving facial expressions that we have come to expect from Joaquin Phoenix, but the character makes no sense at all except as a constant foil to move the Cotillard character forward.

A Question

Perhaps Joaquin Phoenix has the wrong agent.  I'm picturing a guy who has a file folder on his desk labelled "Nut Jobs, " where he puts scripts that film makers want to be sent on to Joaquin.

Other Roles

You all will remember Her, a breakout hit last year.  In it, Joaquin Phoenix plays a man whose totally imagined job is to write love letters for other people.  In real life, the man's wife has left him, and he falls in love with the female voice on his new operating system.


Her is not a bad movie, but its setup is, like the one mentioned above, contrived.  Joaquin Phoenix gives it his best.  He received many plaudits, and fair enough -- it can't be easy to come across as the lover of a voice on a cellphone.  The film is set in the not-distant future of Los Angeles, where I saw it.  Many people in the audience stood to applaud the screening, which is not something I see often at the movies.


I think the only other film I've seen in which Joaquin Phenix starred was Two Lovers, also directed by the guy who did The Immigrant.  It is said to be inspired by a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, who, goodness knows, knew how to spin a tale.

Two Lovers
In that film, Joaquin Phoenix is a suicidal young man attracted to a drug-using neighbor (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is involved with a married man.  He comforts her through an abortion after entering a relationship with the daughter of friends of his parents, who invite him to join their family business.  After the Paltrow character dumps him, he marries the girlfriend his parents have chosen for him.

This of course is the most plausible of the the three films.  And, through it all, Phoenix shows his chops by going through emotional facial contortions.  But, as I recall it several years later, the character's final decision doesn't make any sense.  Lives of quiet desperation, Dostoevsky -- I get all that.  I just didn't believe it.

Up Next

Next month the latest Woody Allen film will be released, and Joaquin Phoenix will have a starring role. Perhaps finally Phoenix will have a chance to play a plausible, neurotic, believable character.

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