Love is Strange (2014) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Darren E. Burrows, Charlie Tahan, Eric Tabach
Director: Ira Sachs
Screenplay: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Review published September 16, 2014
Ben (Lithgow, This is 40) and George (Molina, Monsters University) are an aging same-sex couple living in New York who've been together for about four decades, finally able to do what they had been barred from doing for so long: get married. That public declaration of their love leads to George being fired from his job as a music teacher for a small Catholic school. Without the money to afford the payments to live on their own, the two must separate to live with their respective families and friends until they can find a way to get back on their feet again. Feelings of isolation, despair, and worthlessness begin to creep in, as they begin to lack the support they once lent each other for so many years.
Co-written and directed by Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Married Life), Love is Strange is an acutely perceptive drama that deals with how couples, particularly after many years of living in stability and comfort, find it isolating, both spiritually and emotionally, when thrown into a state of uncertainty and separation from normalcy. It's also an astutely presented look at family dynamics, especially when Ben moves into his nephew Elliott's (Burrows, "Northern Exposure") apartment, only to feel like he's persistently stepping on the toes of his niece-in-law Kate (Tomei, The Ides of March), who is struggling to find peace of mind (with Ben home all day) in order to write a book, and her teen son Joey (Tahan, Life of Crime), who now has to share his bedroom, formerly the only place in the house where he could be alone.
This low-key and understated film features a host of sublime performances, most notably by Lithgow and Molina, who are absolutely believable as the long-time couple who've grown to have a profound affection for each other so deep, and who care for each other through some rocky times -- they've been the rock of support in each other's lives for so long, they can barely cope when that rock is no longer there at the end of a stressful day. Marisa Tomei and Darren E. Burrows are also quite strong in supporting roles as Ben's family who've become stressed out by his presence in their tiny New York apartment, especially when their son, adeptly played by Charlie Tahan, begins to show signs of possible delinquency and rebellion.
Love is Strange isn't really just a commentary about the love between the couple at the heart of the film, and it isn't really a plea to those who disapprove of such unions to embrace it so much as to not punish them for it. It's also about how the repercussions of that love result in strange events unfolding, as if love that's unacceptable to others for no other reason that they're told to despise it is deserving of rebuke. And love comes in a variety of forms, as evidenced in the movie, because it's also about the love of family, even one as strained as Ben's. Sometimes we don't even know the true meaning of love until it threatens to go away, or has gone for good. It's a plea to put judgmental attitudes aside, not trying to put up obstacles to happiness, and just let people love one another, without condition.
©2014 Vince Leo