Love is Strange – Movie Review by Frank L.
Director: Ira Sachs
Writers: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Stars: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei
Set in Manhattan, a place that is considered to have liberal values, for two mature men, one definitely vintage material, to declare in public the love which they have for each other in an official ceremony of matrimony would not on the face of it appear a dangerous adventure to undertake.
Ben (John Lithgow) the older of the two, and George (Alfred Molinas) a comparative young growth, have been lovers for approximately 40 years and lived together for almost 30 years in an apartment. Their neighbours who live across the corridor are a couple of young gay New York cops. Ben’s nephew Elliott (Darren E Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son Joey Charlie (Tahan) are all part of their everyday social mix. They are a bunch of ordinary humans of moderately western civilised values. However George is a music teacher and the school at which he teaches is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. When George was employed at the school in the distant past he signed a document stating that he would uphold the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. As a result of the public declaration of his love for Ben the Church enforces that covenant by dismissing him from his post with no ceremony. The decision is a catastrophe for Ben and George resulting in them having to sell their apartment, amongst other hardships. They are elderly and they have to try to cope. Ira Sachs in a tender and empathetic manner demonstrates how these two gentle souls face the perils that the official public proclamation of their long practised love has created for them.
Manhattan and its residents, in all their diversity, are beautifully portrayed by Ira Sachs. The opening shot is of the bare toes, ankles, and calf muscles of two less than youthful males. It is a simple touching scene. They are the limbs of our two heroes Ben and George. Both Lithgow and Molinas give perfectly modulated performances; they exude the deep patina of affection which can only be revealed by two people who, after a long period of absorbing each other, intimately and generously have created their own new identity of “Ben and George” which binds them as if one. Even though their physical togetherness is fractured by the sale of the apartment, their joint identity remains constant notwithstanding the trials each faces in their new circumstances.
In particular Ben’s relationship with his nephew’s family is beautifully portrayed. The inevitable tensions which arise are sensitive and realistic. It is not easy for each of them and Sachs mines the fault lines with skill. Not quite so successful is George’s handling of his new world partly because living with a couple of young New York cops there is a more laissez faire atmosphere in their apartment even if George is somewhat of the proverbial lonely little petunia in an onion patch.
This a warm, beautiful film. Its arrival in Ireland is timely given the proposed Constitutional amendment to the definition of marriage and with luck will help to inform and deepen the impending debate. Even excluding the impending debate, the film is worthy of being seen as it shows how two grown men are capable of loving each other beautifully.