LOVE IS STRANGE
DIRECTED BY Ira Sachs
STARS John Lithgow, Alfred Molina
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina in Love Is Strange (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
The title is something of a misnomer. The film may be called Love Is Strange, but what's truly strange is that we still live in a world in which true love is downsized if it doesn't meet with everyone's societal standards.
Take the case of Manhattanites Ben and George. Ben (John Lithgow), a retired painter, and George (Alfred Molina), a music director at a Catholic church, have been together for 39 years and have been living together for the past 20. They finally decide to get married, but there's no living happily ever after for this pair. Once the church gets a whiff of this holy union, it's the pink slip for George. Don't let this shake your faith, warns the clergyman who has to fire George. To his credit, George doesn't — after all, God loves him; it's His hypocritical representatives on Earth who are the problem.
Without enough income to continue to afford their pricey apartment, Ben and George have no choice except to move somewhere smaller and cheaper. But that's not exactly easy in the Big Apple, and the pair are forced to stay separately with other people until they can find their own place. It's then that Love Is Strange is revealed as an update of Leo McCarey's 1937 Make Way for Tomorrow, with the modern twist being that instead of elderly parents forced to live apart from one another and eventually wearing on the nerves of their hosts (or vice versa), it's a gay couple having to endure the hardships. Ben stays with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), which is OK with Elliot as he's usually only around for dinnertime and bedtime. It's more troublesome to his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), who as an author works from home and can't deal with Ben's constant prattling, and his son Joey (Charlie Tahan), who's required to share his bedroom with Ben and thus never has any privacy. For his part, George doesn't seem to be an inconvenience to Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez), the gay cops who offer their couch. Rather, it's the other way around, as George is worn down by the pair's endless parties.
Writer-director Ira Sachs (scripting with Mauricio Zacharias) has made a film that's messy and unfocused — and, in this instance, that's not a detriment. Because Ben and George have been dropped into other people's daily lives, they're only privy to bits and pieces of what's going on, and, in essence, so are we. Is Elliot having an affair? Is there something going on between Joey and his only friend, a kid named Vlad (Eric Tabach)? And what's up with those pilfered French books? All of these incidents only really matter when they're dragged into the time zones of Ben and George, which is to say, only sporadically.
Molina and Lithgow are superb in the central roles, with Lithgow earning sympathy as the slightly befuddled Ben and Molina providing quiet strength to the role of the more focused George. Tomei heads up a strong roster of supporting players, all of them cast as characters whose lives are as disrupted as those of our central couple. Tempers may flare and awkwardness may ensue, but, church officials aside, there are no bad people in this story, only bad situations. The Beatles may have stated that love is all you need, but a little patience, empathy and open-mindedness can only serve to further sweeten the pot.