Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been a couple for nearly forty years but were unable to legally get married until New York changed its attitude to same-sex weddings. After finally getting married George finds himself dismissed from his job teaching at a Catholic music school. With their income slashed the couple are forced to sell their apartment leaving them at the mercy of the New York housing market and relying on the kindness of their friends and family to take them in. The loved ones who gave such moving speeches at their wedding find themselves having to actually act on their sentiments and come up short. Nobody is willing to take in both men so after decades together Ben and George find themselves sleeping not just in separate beds but in different apartments.
Ben ends up in his nephew’s family home sharing a bunk bed with a decidedly unimpressed teenager while George moves in with some former neighbours who are a much younger couple prone to hosting loud crowded parties that George no longer has any patience for. Both try to be the best house guests they can but Ben especially finds himself getting in the way and testing the patience of his hosts. Separated and under appreciated Ben and George rediscover just how much they enjoy each others company and the understated authenticity of their long romance holds their relationship, and the film, together.
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are not actors known for their subtlety, both being fantastic at taking on large characters and blowing them up to fill the stage or screen. In Love is Strange though director Ira Sachs has managed to take the scenery out of their mouths and drawn out much more subtle and nuanced performances. Lithgow does none of the loud shouting that had made us love him and as a result gives one of his best performances to date. With Love is Strange the familiar faces fade away to reveal an older couple who are deeply in love and whose company is infinitely preferable to their chaotic friends and impatient family members.
Within their script Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias have a funny and tender love story set many decades after most romantic comedies end. This is the happily ever after. Despite their difficult living situations Love is Strange doesn’t bring with it high drama, settling instead for a portrait of love told by showing a few periods in our characters lives. The film occasionally jumps forward a few weeks or months and it is up to the audience to find their own footing in the gently flowing narrative. As a result of its distinctively indistinct structure the film ends not with a bang but with a slow sigh. I can see how this might frustrate but instead I suggest accepting the film for what it is; a brief interlude into the lives of a lovely couple and the people that love them. The characters have had lives prior to the film and they continue on afterwards. The fact that I wish I had seen more is to the film’s credit.
A beautiful film about love, family, and getting old Love is Strange is a pleasant way to spend an evening.
Love Is Strange is in UK cinemas right now.