After Ben and George get married, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing — a situation that weighs heavily on all involved.
From director Ira Sachs, ‘Love Is Strange’ is an endearing love story about an elderly gay couple that overcomes the slight nature of the story due to the excellent lead performances from John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. The film begins with the wedding of Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina), and it follows the clever technique from ‘The Godfather’ in that it allows the audience to be introduced to all of the key players in one fell swoop. This becomes important soon after, as George loses his job as a music teacher from the catholic school where he works and the couple are forced to sell their apartment due to the reduction in income. In the interim period as they look for new accommodation, Ben goes to stay with his nephew and his family, whilst George moves in across the hallway with their neighbours and friends (a younger gay couple). The angle on losing the job poses an interesting question about the church being happy to employ an openly gay man, but not a married one (despite it being with his partner of 40 years), but perhaps surprisingly the film never really delves into this further.
The film is mostly concerned with the difficulties and challenges this poses to their relationship, and whilst keeping the main characters apart serves to make a point, it removes a lot of the resonance. It also doesn’t help that the strongest scenes are the one’s where Molina and Lithgow are together, and it’s a shame that the demands of the narrative largely lead to them interacting with the other, less interesting characters. I think Sachs wants us to feel for these people through the influence they have on others (such as Ben’s nephews son Joey), but this doesn’t work quite as well when the other characters are thinly sketched and the most prominent in Joey (Charlie Tahan) is annoying and difficult to sympathise with. Ultimately, the film is a little passive at times and it feels a little lacking in momentum when Molina and Lithgow aren’t interacting.
The piano based score is clearly designed to enhance the poignancy of the situation and the films themes, but I found it to be a little irritating, repetitive and unnecessary. A good score can enhance a film and make the viewer consider things differently but the score in ‘Love Is Strange’ feels a little patronising in the sense that it wants to make you feel a certain way about the actions you’re watching on the screen. As the film moves towards its conclusion, we follow one of the best scenes in the film with Ben and George chatting in a bar with an ending that felt rather abrupt- a brave decision from director Sachs, but it didn’t really work for me. With all that being said, this is still a good film, and the performances and chemistry between Lithgow and Molina are well worth the admission fee alone, and at 90 minutes long, ‘Love Is Strange‘ is a brisk, enjoyable meditation on love and commitment.
Directed By: Ira Sachs
Starring: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson and Darren Burrows