Love Is Strange has John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as two gay men in a senior citizen romance that goes sour once it has been made official. To be fair, only Lithgow’s character is really a senior citizen – in real life at age 69 – Molina is just under at 61. The two award winning actors play Ben and George. The men have been partners for 39 years and after all that time the two decide to tie the knot and get married. The idea, although not mentioned in the film, must have come from the recent legalization of same sex marriage in New York.
Ben is a painter, albeit not a very successful one, and George teaches music at a Catholic school. At the beginning of the film all is sunshine and flowers when the two men announce to their family and friends that they are making it official. After an intimate ceremony the couple officially marry to the delight of all concerned.
Immediately after, George is fired from his job by the head of the school, Father Raymond (played by John Cullum). When the newlywed complains that the institution already knew about his relationship with Ben, the father explains that the diocese found out about the marriage and was not pleased. This new turn of events puts the happy couple in financial distress as Ben’s income is not steady and George now only has tutor fees coming in from private clients.
The newly married couple call an emergency meeting where they explain circumstances and that they must sell their apartment. Until George can find a new job neither he nor Ben can afford to rent another place so they ask for help. In another meeting, sans the couple, it is agreed that Ben will stay with his nephew’s nuclear family and George will room with the two gay cops downstairs.
Thus far, critics have heaped praise on Love Is Strange. All this lavish applause for the film feels more for the subject matter than for the story. While John Lithgow and Alfred Molina do an excellent job in their portrayal of two senior citizens in a same sex romance, the film itself feels almost like a waste of effort.
Overall, the story about two older gay men declaring their passion for one another via a wedding license is not all that earth shattering. Nor is the Catholic Church’s response to their obviously gay employee flouting the old fashioned rules. This theme of older same sex lovers was addressed as long ago as 1969 in the Stanley Donen film Staircase which starred Rex Harrison and Richard Burton. In both films the love interests end up spending a lot of time apart although for completely different reasons.
Be that as it may, Love Is Strange has an almost Woody Allen feel to it. Long takes, uncomfortable silences and the device of camera as fly on the wall observer. The viewer almost feels like a voyeur witnessing the awkward situations of all who are intruding into each other’s personal and private space.
The film itself does look stunning. The cinematography is spot on and the lighting is used expertly to help show and change the mood of the scenes. Both Lithgow and Molina convince in their roles of two men who still adore one another after so many years. Marisa Tomei, who seems incapable of giving a bad performance, plays her role brilliantly and the rest of the cast fill in nicely.
Love Is Strange has a lot of subplots and plot threads that lead off to nowhere. By the end of the film, it is not just love which has been looked at but growing old as well. Director Ira Sachs gets the most out of John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as the two senior citizens who still believe in romance. Other things in the film get short shrift. Love Is Strange opens on September 26 and is a mild and somewhat unremarkable movie. It is still enjoyable but not overly so and audiences who expect a bit more bang for their buck may want to avoid it.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square Theater 18