LOVE IS STRANGE Review

Love is Strange isn't about the tragedy at hand, but more the tragedies that circumstance forces us into and the way life seems to backhand those circumstances into more dire consequences. What we see and what we are receiving are two different things as on the surface this could simply be taken as a movie about the current struggles of homosexual couples. In reality though, this is about little more than a single emotion, an emotion the title glorifies as odd and the film describes in several different scenarios and stages. Sure, the hook is that it deals with the homosexual relationship between Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) because it is their relationship that serves as the catalyst for the events that occur in the film, but they are rarely even seen together. This is, of course, intentional as them being apart tells the audience more of their relationship than it ever could if we saw them together constantly. And so, what Love is Strange has to offer is a melancholy tale cloaked in Saturday afternoon sunshine that makes it feel more light and frothy than it has any right to perpetrate. While there is  a certain amount of vitriol in the screenplay from writer/director Ira Sachs and writing partner Mauricio Zacharias it is a very measured amount to the extent that none of these characters play into archetypes, but instead deliver the most poignant moments in the film by portraying these characters as human beings most will seemingly be able to relate to. I would like to assume there is a certain amount of understanding in humanity where we can drop the facades of acting the way we think we're supposed to and just speak in truths of empathy, but I also realize how much wishful thinking that actually is. This is why Love is Strange is so powerful in its execution and its presentation of these characters that everyone might not agree though as it is still able to relay a part of the viewers life to the point of understanding even if their orientation differs. I came to the film not knowing much about it other than the fact its two lead performances were being highly praised, but as it slowly sneaked up on me I felt it was rather middle of the road until the final scene hit me with the subtlety it had been playing at all along.

The film begins by introducing us to the older couple at the heart of the film who, after nearly four decades together, are finally able to marry in a small wedding ceremony in lower Manhattan. The aforementioned circumstantial tragedy comes about when George loses his job teaching music at a Catholic school. This comes as a result of him legally marrying Ben, despite the school knowing he was gay and living with his partner the entire time he was employed by them. As a result of losing his job, George and Ben are forced to sell their apartment and mooch off family until they are able regain their footing. While George moves in with two neighboring cops (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez), Ben lands in Brooklyn with his nephew (Darren Burrows), his wife (Marisa Tomei), and their moody teenage son (Charlie Tahan), with whom Ben ends up sharing a bunk bed. As a result of this move, Ben and George are not only forced with the struggle of being apart, but are introduced into whole new dynamics that feel out of their element. This change in scenery though is what allows for the introduction and study of variations in relationships for people of different generations while imploring much of the drama from the repercussions of Ben's presence. Tensions arise and awkward moments ensue, but the heart of the film always stays true to documenting the honesty of being in a relationship with another unique individual who, no matter your compatibility, is a different being from yourself.

What is most inspiring about Love is Strange though, as a movie, is the way it so effortlessly conveys these ideas and relations. There are never any forced messages or clear agendas, but rather the film simply presents its story with the simple hope the audience will be interested in the premise and eventually, these people. As I said earlier, in the first stages as well as throughout the majority of the film I simply accepted it for what it seemed to be-a standard portrait of love with the hip hook of the central couple being gay, but as the film continued to build and layer itself while maintaining a brisk pace while keeping itself to a wise ninety minutes the impression only grew greater and more sincere. Not to spoil the film, but in order to get at what I appreciated most it must be disclosed that reading any further will indeed "spoil" certain impacts the film might leave on you, so consider yourself warned. In the end of the film, after it is fairly hinted at throughout, we learn that Ben has passed away and thus after just being able to officially call themselves a married couple they are split up resulting in never being able to live out that dream of being an actual married couple. It is a cruel turn that goes unmentioned by Molina's George in his final scene, but you can see the pain in his face. Now, some will say, "but they had nearly forty years of memories together and were not necessarily robbed of anything," but the fact of the matter is they were and it is insanely torturous to think about if you put yourself in that position. I can't imagine the disdain George comes to have for society and the contempt he might have for the church and his former employer, but never do we see this come to the surface. Instead, George is always composed, honorable and thankful for what he received and not jaded by what could have been. This interpretation of a human being is more than admirable, it is the basis of being humane and when the credits begin to roll, it became overwhelmingly affecting.

These actions, these story elements may seem to speak to the overall point of the film being about marriage equality for gays and lesbians, but again, it is more about the condition of love than anything else and I can't help but feel it would be hard to argue otherwise. In bringing this non too obvious story to life are the genuine, empathetic performances of leads Lithgow and Molina. They both clearly have their pre-defined roles in their relationship, but it is amazingly natural how easily the actors fall into these roles purporting a couple that actually have as much history between them as we're to believe they do. Lithgow's Ben is the more ethereal type who lives off his pension and likes to sit out in the sun and paint all day while George is the one more in tune with the going-ons of the world and our current society. As a teacher, he is adept to recognizing the culture around him and as a music enthusiast and teacher he forms the connective tissue of he and Ben's upscale, artistic view on life that is more than appropriate for New York City. These two seasoned pros are more than up to the task required by Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Married Life) as he guides their relationship through a series of moods that could easily defect how they feel towards one another, but always keeps the logic intact of simple trust and the ties that bind our leads together. It is so difficult to find a film that approaches the subject of love without any strings attached, but more just the basic idea of being able to love someone and never giving into anything that might take away from being lucky enough to have found someone you really love spending time with. Sachs illustrates that beautifully here as he paints what we could easily perceive as one thing, but hints at so much more.

Blu-Ray Extras:
  • Commentary with John Lithgow, Alfred Molina and Ira Sachs – A discussion that may lean a bit hard on self-congratulations, but hearing the chemistry between these three and listening to them have fun together makes the whole thing quite enjoyable.
  • What is Love: Making of Love is Strange (HD, 23:21) – A nice EPK that is long enough to show us all of the different actors involved and let us hear significant thoughts on being a part of this film.
  • LA Film Festival Q&A with John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Cheyenne Jackson and Ira Sachs (HD, 24:58) – An enjoyable conversation about the film, following a screening.
  • Theatrical Trailer