Love Is Strange
Directed by Ira Sachs
After 39 years together, Ben and George finally tie the knot, but George loses his job as a result, and the newlyweds must sell their New York apartment and live apart, relying on friends and family to make ends meet.
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★★★½ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
“I believe the world is a better place if people aren't lying.”
Grounded on solid performances from John Lithgow and Alfred Molina playing a gay couple who have been in a relationship for nearly 4 decades, Ira Sach’s latest film is as authentic as it gets. Feeling more like a slice of life film than a generic romance, Sach delivers a tender, patient, and emotionally engaging movie with characters playing real people. The dialogue, which Sachs co-wrote with Mauricio Zacharias, feels completely natural and never sappy nor forced. One might be put off by the apparent simplicity of the premise, but it stands out from other films in the genre by never undermining the romance and centering it instead on the outer struggles the couple has to face. Love is Strange takes a different approach and instead of questioning the love between these two characters it centers on the obstacles they face once they are forced by the economy to find another place to live.
At the very beginning of the film we are introduced to Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) who after nearly forty years of living together have decided to get married. The marriage has immediate consequences in their lives after George is fired from his music teaching post at a Catholic school. They have always known he shared a relationship with Ben, but now that he is officially married the school authorities decided to fire him. Not having sufficient income to sustain their comfortable Manhattan lives, they are forced to sell the apartment. Until George can find a new job they decide to live apart for a couple of weeks. Ben moves into his nephew Elliot’s home (Darren E. Burrows) who lives with his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan). Meanwhile George stays with his good friends, Ted and Roberto, a gay couple who work as police officers and love to party. Both are having trouble adjusting to their new lives. Their relationship continues to be as strong as ever, but it is the difficulty to adjust to their current situation that becomes the main plot of the film. Ben’s presence becomes a bit of an inconvenience for Kate and her son Joey, while George has trouble adapting to his friends’ partying lifestyle.
The performances by Lithgow and Molina are refreshingly authentic. You believe these people have shared most of their lives together and sustain a solid relationship which also makes the separation that much harder. Their performance is what allows us to engage with the film despite having an ordinary and simple plot. Marisa Tomei also delivers a strong supporting role, but it’s Lithgow and Molina who draw us in. This isn’t a film about a tormented gay couple, it could very well have been about any ordinary couple because the film focuses entirely on the external hardships they have to face and the everyday interactions they share with the people they are currently forced to live with. Love is Strange is a quiet and slow paced drama that stands out for its strong lead performances and its tender and authentic portrayal of love.
★★★★ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
Sachs' gentle nocturne pits love as beauty vs love as burden. absolutely wrecked me. Alfred Molina has to be one of the most undervalued actors around, and has been for some time. so instantly empathetic, few people have ever hurt so helpfully on screen. Sachs also deserves to be commended, yet again, for his textural use of music. as he buckled down on Arthur Russell in KEEP THE LIGHTS ON, he leans on Chopin here... the effect on mood is obviously palpable, but i think the greater value can be found in pace... the film lilting forward, sticking to the notes but still fiercely focused. easy to forgive how the movie overplays some of its subplots when it nails the things that matter, like the west village date scene that slowly recedes into memory. i'm so happy the Ira Sachs who made MARRIED LIFE seems dead and gone.
maybe I'll be able to sleep now.
★★★★½ review by Filmspotting on Letterboxd
Can't spare the time to do this film justice right now... Tender, beautiful, one of the year's best. Wish I had caught up with it sooner.
★★★½ review by TajLV on Letterboxd
This French-American production seems like more of a vignette than a story. It takes up the lives of a New York gay couple late in life, when they are finally able to marry after 39 years together. We get hints here and there of how they spent their younger years, but the focus is very much on the present and the predicament caused by their tying the knot.
Benjamin Arthur Hull (John Lithgow) is 71 years old, a retired artist drawing a pension and still very much in love with his younger husband George Esteban Garea (Alfred Molina), who works as a music teacher. They honeymoon in Petra, but when photos of the wedding and trip appear on the Internet, the administrators at St. Grace Catholic School decide George has broken his contract, not honoring the mandates of their faith, and he is fired.
Of course, living in New York City is expensive. Until the couple can find a new, less costly place to live, they split up temporarily ... George living with a couple of friends who are gay cops, and Ben moving in with his filmmaker nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows) and his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) plus their teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan).
Right away there are problems. George can hardly get any sleep on the couch he's been offered, because there seems to be a party in the apartment every night. Ben starts getting on the nerves of Joey and Kate, while Elliot is rarely around. What's more, Ben and George aren't used to being apart so much; they miss each other and the separation works hard on both of them.
Credit goes to writer-director Ira Sachs for maintaining audience interest throughout and arranging for some lovely piano music to accompany this. As indie films go, it's pretty good, buoyed by the performances of two great male actors. But again, it feels like a piece of a story rather than a complete picture, and I enjoyed it somewhat less because of that.
★★★★ review by Rod Sedgwick on Letterboxd
''I have missed having your body next to mine too much to have it denied to me for reasons of bad engineering.''
A wonderfully humane and affecting film that works on you like a gentle breeze, and although I wasn't quite locked in with the slightly awkward first 10-15 minutes, a little Chopin and a lot of Alfred Molina and Jonathan Lithgow goes a long way. The comparisons to Tokyo Story by some are a bit of a stretch, but the realistic family and home dynamics from an outsiders perspective strike a universal chord, and the film really comes into its own by the time it has reached its bittersweet dénouement.
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