By Mark Metcalf Special to Published Aug 08, 2009 at 9:23 AM

Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."

In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with Milwaukee Film, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including He recently filmed an episode of the popular AMC series "Mad Men."

He also finds time to write about movies for This week, Metcalf weighs in on "Two Lovers."


I watched this movie and then, out of sheer curiosity, I went to and watched the interview Joaquin Phoenix gave to David Letterman -- the one that got so much press.

It was the one where he said he was going to give up acting and concentrate on music. I'm one of the five or six people who think Letterman is a smug, mean spirited SOB. When I was a friend of Terri Garr, he teased her to the point where she actually cried once and I decided I'd rather read or stay in the bar than watch him anymore.

With Joaquin Phoenix, he probably had some interchange with him backstage before they started the show, I don't know, but as soon as he saw him with the beard and the shades, he went on the attack. It was simple, adolescent bewilderment at an unorthodox look, but Letterman chose to react by attacking it.

With someone like Phoenix, the hostility just sends him deeper underground. I know it is the Letterman style. He is aggressive and hostile, superior and smug, that's just the way he is, and if you agree to do the show then you agree to put up with it. Phoenix was there to plug his movie, this movie, "Two Lovers," and like most actors, not performers (and there is a difference), he probably didn't really want to be there but it is part of the job, so you get out and plug the movie. It's in the contract. So he sat there, more and more bewildered himself, at what became Letterman's very skillful use of the awkward moment to get a laugh. Always at Joaquin Phoenix's expense.

To Letterman's credit, he had seen the film "Two Lovers" and was very complimentary. I believe he genuinely liked it and respects Phoenix's work, in this film and the body of work, too. It is true that Phoenix has never done anything cheap or "for the money." Nothing that I am aware of, anyway, and "Two Lovers" is one of the simplest, most honest, sweetest, and, in it's final choice, kindest movies that I have seen for a long time.

It is the story of a man whose heart has been broken. He lives with his parents in an apartment in Brighton Beach and works in his father's dry cleaning business. His parents are careful with him because he has suffered from depression and there are strong hints of suicide attempts, but they still try to set him up with the daughter of a man who may become a partner in the dry cleaning business. She's a nice woman and they are a good match. But, he happens to meet Gwyneth Paltrow. She is an attractive woman living a life that is more complicated than she is. He takes care of people. It is his nature, and he struggles with it. He takes care of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Joaquin Phoenix has an intensity and a gravitas about him in every film he does. I think it is part of what Letterman fails to understand. There is a glib self-contempt in Letterman's style and he is just confused by the stillness and seriousness of a man who is not giddy with joy that he has been given the chance to speak about himself on national television. Phoenix brings that weight and beautiful nuance to the man who is still suffering the loss of one love and finds himself faced with two very different kinds of love, in two very different kinds of women. The miracle and the joy of the film is that he is a man who is completely unafraid to love and, by the end, to be loved. He does have to learn the difference.

It is a little film. But it is a completely lovely film and a welcome antidote to movies about things that blow up, and people who seem to dedicate their lives to destroying things.


Mark Metcalf Special to

Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."

Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.