A close friend of mine recently Facebook posted that “Love Is Strange” is a “lovely film”, and he’s absolutely correct. It’s unhurried and incisive, and features some pretty terrific performances from big stars you know, as well as from some “unknowns” that you probably don’t. The main storyline focuses on a gay couple in New York City, only recently married, but together nearly 40 years. Two heterosexual actors portray the couple, and their subtlety and gentle nuance is showcased via unshowy naturalism and quiet wisdom. Okay…the main conceit is a bit contrived. Also, there’s a nearly fatal misstep late in the game involving a “lucky break”. But this is an actor’s showcase. And there’s a marvelous performance from Marisa Tomei…she never strikes a false note.
Seventyish Ben(an understated John Lithgow)and sixty-or-so George(a practical Alfred Molina)are finally able to wed after a 4-decade union–only to immediately encounter financial hardship. George loses his school music instructor job, upon word of his nuptials with Ben, even though the partnership was obvious long before the ceremony took place. And with artist Ben semi-retired, it’ll prove impossible to maintain their Greenwich Village abode. This forces a separation, as the men take up temporary residence in Manhattan until they can locate a place of their own. Ben ends up with his nephew, Elliot(a percolating Darren Burrows), his novelist wife Kate(a wonderful Ms. Tomei), and their confused teenage son(Charlie Tahan as Joey). George is sofa-bound at the home of two much younger, party-loving, gay friends. The pair’s uprooting quickly tests the loyalty of their overburdened inner circle.
This is the 2nd consecutive film from Ira Sachs, in which I’ve watched the writer/director allegedly play out a fictionalized account from his own life on-screen. That’s fine, considering that his personal experiences gave us “Love Is Strange”, along with 2012’s “Keep the Lights On”. Both screenplays are rich with the history of actual happenings. It feels and sounds real, and the openly gay Sachs obviously knows how to transfer his life events to the page. He’s a keen director too, and there’s a penultimate scene involving someone weeping in a stairwell that is astonishing in its lingering stillness. It’s an amazing choice, loaded with emotion. Lithgow and Molina, highly accomplished stage performers as well as prolific screen actors, bring a majestic power to their roles sans any histrionics whatsoever. The movie also quietly suggests the turbulent background of gay acceptance–within the proximity of Stonewall. And Ms. Tomei balances exasperation and compassion expertly. “Love Is Strange” is deceptively simple. It’s also a beautifully, romantic journey. Take the ride.