US Release Date: 01-18-2014
Directed by: Ira Sachs
- John Lithgow, as
- Alfred Molina, as
- Marisa Tomei, as
- Cheyenne Jackson, as
- Christian Coulson, as
- Charlie Tahan, as
- Darren E. Burrows, as
- Harriet Sansom Harris, as
- John Cullum, as
- Father Raymond
- Sebastian La Cause, as
- Manny Perez, as
- Eric Tabach as
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina in Love Is Strange.
From writer/director Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Forty Shades of Blue) comes this low key examination of love in modern day New York City. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are Ben and George, a couple who have been living together in the same apartment for 39 years. The movie begins with them preparing for their wedding with much eager anticipation. They are surrounded by family and friends for this joyous occasion.
Unfortunately George works for a Catholic school. Although the powers that be at the school knew that George was gay and in a long term relationship, George is fired once the ceremony takes place. It was a risk he was more than willing to take. He and Ben both knew what to expect. Even though George's being fired causes them to lose their apartment, neither Ben, George (nor the filmmakers) seem bitter towards the Catholic Church. This isn't a diatribe against church doctrine. It merely shows the effect the Church's rules have on this one family, and that is more powerful than any bitter verbal denunciation.
Unable to quickly afford a new apartment, George and Ben are forced to live apart temporarily. Ben goes to stay with his niece (Marisa Tomei) and her family in Brooklyn, while George moves in with a neighbor. We see how much this separation costs them as well as how it affects Ben's family, especially his teenaged great-nephew.
Love Is Strange was shot in the Village and in parts of Bushwick. The city plays an integral part in the story. The acting from the two leads is Oscar caliber. John Lithgow gets the juicier role. He's an artist who loves painting on the rooftop. An accident puts his arm in a sling. Alfred Molina is equally good and their scenes together are romantic and moving. Rarely has love between an older couple been so convincingly portrayed on the screen, and I have never seen a gay couple in a movie like George and Ben.
The director lets some plot points take place off screen. He doesn't spoon feed details to the audience. He sets up certain shots with an exquisite eye and lets them linger. One example is a scene where Ben and George say goodnight at a subway entrance. The camera lingers after they have kissed goodbye and Ben has disappeared down the steps. It is a simple shot and yet it's oh so poignant.
Love Is Strange paints a moving portrait of one couple's love. It demonstrates the importance of family and friends but at the end of the day there is no place like home. And home is where the heart is. Ben and George are each others' hearts and they are forced apart by circumstance. Although it's permeated with sadness Love Is Strange is ultimately an uplifting celebration of the human spirit.
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow in Love Is Strange
Love Is Strange is ultimately an uplifting experience as it celebrates the human spirit and how we sometimes touch, or bother, each other unknowingly. We see through Ben's nephew and wife a couple very busy with their careers. They both constantly seem to be multi tasking. Neither is even aware that there is something going on with their son. Look at the family dinner conversation where they assume the worst about their son having stolen books and then in the middle of the interrogation take a business call. The conversation goes very badly as the parents do more assuming than listening.
Ben is also not always a very good listener. In a humorously ironic scene, Ben tries to talk to Kate while she is writing. Annoyed by his constant interruptions, she suggests that he paint. Ben responds that he cannot as there are too many people around distracting him. Later, Ben proves to be very good at picking up on situations. While alone with his nephew, Ben asks a personal question and then shuts up, allowing his nephew to reveal both his desires and his weakness.
As Patrick pointed out, the director has some key plot points take place off screen and not everything is fully explained. We are intended to pay more attention to the mood in any given scene than the events or dialogue occurring within them. The final scene features zero dialogue but poetically tells us plenty. My brother described when Ben and
George say goodbye at a subway entrance while my favorite scene came just shortly before that one.
Ben and George share a drink at a bar, where Ben tells an outrageous lie that George laughs at, even though he has obviously heard it many times before. They talk briefly of their past and we hear one vaguely refer to past indiscretions that have long been dealt with and gotten over. Their relationship was not without hardship and issues but they have both long accepted that neither is perfect and still love each other without the slightest hint of bitterness or regret. Is that not how we all want, and expect, our relationships to turn out?
I also agree that George and Ben make a convincing elderly couple. I was reminded of On Golden Pond where another elderly couple has long since discovered each others flaws and learned to live with them. Both couples worked in education, were well read and wholly committed to each other despite what difficulties arose. George and Ben are the gay Norman and Ethel. Compare those two long term relationships to the elderly couple in 45 Years who both look at their past 45 years together with doubt.
The pacing in Love Is Strange is a tad languid and the plot is slight. Just as I was wishing it would make a point already, I suddenly understood that it was. Life is about the little moments that may seem innocuous at first but in hindsight have greater depth. Love can not only be strange but also unique, be it the career minded parents, the gay Dungeons and Dragons playing policemen, the boy too shy to express himself to a girl or the elderly gentlemen who simply want a place to call home.
Love Is Strange has some wonderful acting performances but is a slow moving tale where very little happens yet so much is said.
Photos © Copyright Charlie GuidanceMm...Buttered Panini ProductionsParts and Labor (2014)