Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Love Is Strange Movie Review

What a beautiful little movie Ira Sachs made with Love Is Strange. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow play George and Ben, a same sex couple who get married (thanks to a change in New York law) after almost forty years together as partners. George, who works as a music educator in a private Catholic school, is fired for not upholding the values of the Church. Essentially, his marriage stands in conflict with the public image of the Church. The decision is not unlike any company firing someone for publicly engaging in a behavior that reflects poorly on company values. However, his colleagues and most of his students and their parents knew he was gay and lived with Ben.

This doesn’t shake his faith, but it does sour his feelings toward his boss with his lack of courage to stand up to the Archdiocese for what’s right. The result is that Ben, who is a painting hobbyist and retired art gallery owner, and George can no longer afford their condo. So they have to sell and move in separately with family and friends until they land on their feet.

George moves in with another gay couple, former neighbors of theirs. They are both cops and they are much younger and more social. So George’s sofa bed becomes the site of late-night parties that disrupt his habits. There’s not much he can say, of course, because they’re doing him an enormous favor. Ben, meanwhile, has moved in with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows). So he is imposing both on Elliot’s teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan) and his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), a writer who depends on an absence of distractions to work at home.

This imposition on other people then challenges not only their commitment to each other, but their relationships to the people they previously didn’t depend on, but now are forced to. It’s amazing how what feels to a person like a very good relationship (of husband to wife, mother to son, uncle to nephew, etc.) ca suddenly be cast in a very different light when placed in a tight space for extended time. So tension builds between Kate and Ben because he putters around distractingly. Also between Kate and Elliot because he dotes on Ben while being excessively hard on Joey, who happens to be going through what appears to be a tough social time while simultaneously sharing a bedroom with his great uncle.

Molina and Lithgow are both so naturally magnificent like two old acting pros. As a straight man, I can imagine how difficult it would have to be to feign intimacy with another man and to look totally at ease doing it. Lithgow and Molina never look like anything other than intimate long-term partners. It also speaks to Sachs’ considerate direction that he permits us to see them as such.

Sachs, who co-wrote the film with Mauricio Zacharias, brings a tremendous amount of dignity to George and Ben and their relationship. This is a film about love and commitment and the challenges of maintaining both in the face of adversity. It just happens that the couple involved is gay. The homosexuality is never made into a plot point or a sideshow curiosity to be pored over. The screenplay doesn’t traffic in stereotypes or generalizations. Theoretically this story could be told with a heterosexual couple without losing any substance. Love Is Strange is an important step in establishing the normalcy of same sex couples. The more people see that gays are human beings with similarly complex emotions, with challenges in their lives, with the same desires for acceptance and partnership, the better it ultimately is for human dignity. That Sachs did that while also making a beautifully sweet and touching story of a lifelong partnership makes this a worthwhile project.

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