MIFF Review: Love is Strange

Blogged by: Review by Filmme Fatales partner Kane Daniel. 06 Aug 2014 View comments
When, in the opening scenes of Love is Strange, you see John Lithgow awake in bed with a sleeping Alfred Molina beside him, you can't help but wonder what his gaze into the middle distance signifies – Unhappiness? Happiness? Crisis? Comfort? – which ends up being a pretty good symbol for the film. One in which its characters’ emotions exist as they do in the non-film world. Rather than grand, mythological things they're mostly quiet – only able to be truly understood by people with whom you're truly close.



Love is Strange is the latest film by Ira Sachs, whose previous feature, Keep the Lights On, was a well-received story about the awful strain drug addiction places on a relationship between two men. His most recent, screening at MIFF, may be a little less bleak but it's no less profound. The story of New Yorkers Ben (Lithgow in a heartbreakingly tender, nuanced break from the more scene-chewing roles for which he's infamous) and George – his thoughtful, dependable partner of many decades as portrayed by Molina.
 
Turns out that inscrutable look Ben was shooting a window was one of expectation. He's about to get married to George in a low-key, sun-lit New York wedding that would do mid-period Woody Allen proud. After the joyful event, however, George is unceremoniously fired from his long-standing job teaching music at a private Catholic school. Despite the faculty, students and parents knowing he was gay, his marriage was a bridge too far for the archdiocese. It's an injustice treated with calm dignity by George but results in the newly married couple having to sell their Manhattan apartment and split from each other. Ben leaves to sleep on a bunk bed in the apartment of his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows) – shared with Elliot's novelist wife (Marisa Tomei) and their son, Joey (Charlie Tahan) – while George is stuck sleeping on the couch of another couple: the loud-partying, Dungeon and Dragons-playing cops Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez).



Where other films might have just sketched out this cast of supporting characters, used them as caricatures only existing to express annoyance at having to take in men about to enter old age, Love is Strange makes them (Tomei, in particular) whole, developed characters who are as much of the story as Ben and George. This is what gives the movie real dimension; rather than just a pathos-ridden story of two men fighting the bureaucratic quirks of purchasing real estate in New York while irritating their relatives, it's a meditation on the complexity of human relationships. Through its unhurried, elliptic storytelling it reminds us that lovers, relatives or friends will never be able to get along perfectly and – maybe – there's some beauty in that.
 
Mostly, though, it's extremely adorable to see Molina throw caution to the wind and give Lithgow the snuggle he's been missing for so long despite the very real possibility of that selfsame snuggle collapsing a teenager's bunk bed. Their paunchy, hairy frames telling more truth about love than any sleek, hairless teenagers ever could. 
 

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