Film Review: 'Love Is Strange'
Opens: 13 February 2015 (UK)
Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson
Director: Ira Sachs
Producers: Lucas Joaquin, Lars Knudsen, Ira Sachs, Jayne Baron Sherman, Jay Van Hoy
Love Is Strange is not a film that has universal appeal. It unfolds at a gingerly place, and at a few points tries your patience, but this poignant love story about an elderly gay couple is so touching that it’s hard to not be taken in by its simplicity, and heart warming performances that stay with you long after the show's over.
Essentially a Festival film that premiered at Sundance last year, Love is Strange is the story about catholic school teacher George (Molina), who gets fired as soon as word gets out of his marriage to his partner of forty years (Lithgow), and how as a result, they can no longer afford their apartment in Manhattan.
As a result of their circumstances, the couple are forced to separate and seek refuge with friends and family, where Ben shares a bunk with his nephew’s eccentric and cranky son, while George couch crashes with his former neighbours, who have a thing for a party. These unexpected circumstances test both their relationships and the ones that surround them, and how they strive to overcome them forms the crux of the story.
There’s a lot about this French-American drama that draws you in but the film’s major triumph comes from its central performances. Both Lithgow and Molina are simply marvellous, conveying their angst through subtle expressions and well placed self deprecating humour. Lithgow especially, shines as a character that very obviously has been through a lot, but continues to remain unfazed and dignified, despite his world crashing around him. I particularly enjoyed the candour of his character Ben who confesses to his infidelities in a bar, or the way in which he thaws his unlikely roommate (Tahan, compelling). Molina has some fine moments too – the scene where his George travels half way across the city to be with Ben in torrential rain is particularly moving and bound to evoke a sense of pathos even amongst the most stoic audiences. From the supporting cast, besides Tahan, Tomei, as the uptight writer stands out too nailing the frustrations of her working mother/writer, in the limited screen time that she gets.
Besides its eventually engaging script, the film also manages to score with its unlikely visuals and cinematography – Manhattan has never looked so real and de-glam as it does here, and the film’s background score too, effectively captures the mood at different stages of the film.
The way in which director Sachs (who himself is openly gay and Jewish), never shies away from portraying the bleakness of the situation and certain relationships, and yet still manages to pepper them with moments of deadpan humour also works in the film favour. His situations and characters are very real and despite some of their selfish actions, you never despise any of the supporting cast when they struggle to cope with their surprise guests. Their issues and actions too seem justified and therein lies the beauty of the film. It gives each of the characters ample breathing space to shine even though the film’s love story remains at its very core.
At a taut ninety minutes this bittersweet, reflective and rightly raved about film never overstays its welcome, and despite its often slow pace, deserves a viewing for both Lithgow and Molina's moving performances and the portrayal of their characters’ heartbreaking romance, which many will find relatable. Not the easiest watch, but a very worthy four stars.