Two 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.
It’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.
The 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.
Love 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.