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Film Review: A Timely Reminder That ‘Love is Strange’

LoveisStrange1Two longtime lovers marry. That’s the starting point of Love is Strange, the latest feature from director Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On), but while amore may have its unexpected twists, this well-crafted story rightly notes some human behaviors in the wider world are sadly predictable.

That’s because the lovers (together for 39 years as the film opens) are gay: Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), thanks to New York’s 2011 enactment of a law allowing same-sex couples to marry, tie the knot in lower Manhattan among friends and family. But public notice of that event (on Facebook, of course) leads Catholic Church authorities to fire George after 12 years teaching music in one of their schools, forcing the couple to sell their apartment and temporarily live separately until they can find a new place.

George moves in with two cops (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) who live in the same building while Ben – a painter whose primary income is a retirement pension – lands in Brooklyn with his loving nephew (Darren Burrows), his novelist wife (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son (Charlie Tahan), with whom Ben shares a bunk bed. Those awkward new living arrangements and their painful separation understandably create tension and conflict.

LoveisStrange3It’s unfortunately very predictable that a church which is vehemently anti-gay would oust George from his post once one of its bishops learned about his marriage. It’s no less surprising, though, that Ben’s great-nephew Joey, while sensitive to such modern mores as current environmental terminology wouldn’t have a clue about why saying “That’s so gay” is offensive (he apparently hasn’t seen that Wanda Sykes PSA).

Bigotry isn’t the only challenge – George’s new roomies are also gay, but the generational differences between them and him include more than just the obsession his younger friends have with the “Game of Thrones” TV series, and  Tomei’s character quickly loses patience with Ben hanging around the house.

Love is Strange does a great job of showing the often quiet but always palpable anguish George and Ben’s new situations create at every turn. Credit Sachs’ tight direction and a script he wrote with Mauricio Zacharias (who also collaborated with Sachs on Keep the Lights On) that allows some fine actors to appropriately show more than they tell where emotions surface.

LoveisStrange2The whole cast deserves kudos but it’s Lithgow and Molina that make this intimate tale so real. “Ben, do you ever blame me for all of this?” George asks Ben when they get to spend the night together Joey’s room. “Why would I? We did this together.” Both actors make such a scene warm to the touch. And they handle humorous moments just as well (the video at the bottom of this article provides one example).

The gently-lit images captured by cinematographer Christos Voudouris (Before Midnight) and a musical score that includes a wonderfully heavy dose of Frédéric Chopin classics (like the always-heart-tugging “Prelude No. 15 in D-Flat, Op. 28, ‘Raindrop'”) tenderly frame this feature. Love is Strange is timely and realistic, but it’s also a beautiful slice of cinematic storytelling.

LoveisStrange4Love is Strange opens in Nashville Friday (Sept. 26) exclusively at Regal Green Hills Stadium 16 (click on the location to see showtimes and buy tickets). The film is rated R for language and runs 94 minutes.

*Photos by Jeong Park courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).