Love is Strange, 2014.
Directed by Ira Sachs.
Starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows and Charlie Tahan.
After Ben and George get married, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing — a situation that weighs heavily on all involved.
Love is Strange is a film about love and modern city living, and how those things aren’t necessarily always simpatico. After getting married to Ben (John Lithgow), his partner of 39 years, George (Alfred Molina) is fired from his job as a Catholic school music teacher for “making a statement.” Faced with financial difficulties, George sells his apartment with his new husband and they each agree to live separately with friends while looking for a new place. Separated – George rooms with two cop friends, Ben stays at the home of his nephew (Darren Burrows), his wife (Marisa Tomei) and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan) – they appear weakened, with habits they’ve become so accustomed to after years of living together infuriating their new roommates.
Marisa Tomei lends typically fine support as the initially sympathetic but increasingly irate “niece” to Ben, but the MVPs of Love is Strange are Molina and Lithgow, unquestionably. They’re subtle, moving, funny, they’re two real-life friends whose genuine relationship off-screen suggests an entire history on-screen. They are two straight actors who – and this is rare for a big American film about homosexuality – don’t seem like they’re self-consciously ‘playing it gay’. That’s one of the film’s strengths: Love is Strange doesn’t look at gay relationships with the eye of a straight ‘other’, and praise must be given to Molina and Lithgow for making George and Ben’s relationship so heartwarming and believable.
We feel the almost 40 years they’ve spent together. Theirs is one of the most poignantly simple relationships seen on film this year. It’s why the simple act of the partners separately relocating prior to moving apartments feels so devastating. We can’t stand to see them apart, alone in a New York that’s portrayed as some hipster kingdom which George and Ben don’t always belong in. Love is Strange emphasises how a single change can lead to a complete upheaval in our lives, and how desperate money (or lack thereof) can make us.
The film could criticise the church, or society and its treatment of the elderly (as the couple are forced to search for new accommodation, they’re coldly reminded of the fact that Ben is now at pension age), in how they impact the couple’s lives. But director Ira Sachs, who co-wrote the film with Mauricio Zacharias, isn’t interested in getting angry. There isn’t outrage, but a mere reminder that the Catholic Church has some catching up to do in order to remain relevant in an enlightened, inclusive age. “I still believe in Jesus Christ as my saviour,” George tells the school priest. Ben, meanwhile, faces prejudice in his own way: the distrust in him using Joey’s friend Vlad as a still-life model hints at the still-ingrained fear of predatory homosexuality in society. Ben forgives anyway.
Love is Strange is a representation of modern gay life and how far things have come, but it also offers a gentle word to anyone who may still consider homosexuality in some way odd. As the film draws to a close, we’re again reminded of the fragility of existence, and if there’s one complaint to be had, it’s that Sachs makes an unnecessary emotional rug-pull before the end. His film is otherwise a deeply moving story of love, that’s as straightforward as that sounds and never as schmaltzy. See it to restore your faith in the romantic drama. See it for one of the best on-screen couples of 2014, played by two veteran performers on top of their game.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Brogan Morris – Lover of film, writer of words, pretentious beyond belief. Thinks Scorsese and Kubrick are the kings of cinema, but PT Anderson and David Fincher are the young princes. Follow Brogan on Twitter if you can take shameless self-promotion.