Title: Love is Strange
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Ira Sachs
Screenplay: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Cast: Alfred Molina, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows, Cheyenne Jackson, John Cullum
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 6/23/14
Opens: August 22, 2014
The recession brought on by the bankers and Wall Street may be over, but tell that to the hundreds of thousands of newly minted college grads who must remain living with their parents because they can’t find jobs. But what about the millions of people who have been laid off from their jobs, have gone through unemployment benefits, and are still looking? If they can’t afford to remain in their apartments and houses, what do they do? If they’re lucky enough to find friends and relatives who will take them in, that’s fine, but there’s a limit to how long these benefactors will put up with their guests. Then what? If the unemployed wind up on the streets, I don’t see them. Where do they go?
For one answer, we look at Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), two aging gays who have been living together for decades. Ben is pensioned off at 71 while George teaches music at the local Catholic school. But when the two get married, the Church can no longer look the other way. George is fired by the priest running the school (John Cullum) and the couple can no longer afford to remain in their Manhattan co-op. They are lucky enough to sell their apartment quickly and to find people to take them in, but not both together. George goes to live with buddies, two gay New York cops Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez) while Ben pads down with nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows), Elliot’s wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan). Most of the action of the story takes place with the latter arrangement, stressingly friction between Ben and teen student Joey, who now lacks privacy and is relegated to the top bunk of his bed to make room for his uncle.
If director Ira Sachs and his co-writer Mauricio Zacharias want to offer a dig at the Catholic Church, they do so with the understanding that George signed a document on taking the job that he not only pray and accept Jesus Christ as savior but that he abide by the regulations of his employer—one of which being apparently that gay marriage is unacceptable. Instead, the forty-nine year old Tennessee-born Sachs, whose 2012 movie “Keep the Lights On” deals with a closeted lawyer and a documentary filmmaker, continues his interest thematically in gay couples while at the same time probing the effect that changed financial circumstances has on the people taking them in. It doesn’t take long for Kate to become annoyed with Ben, who doesn’t take the hint that she needs privacy to write her second novel and keeps up the patter. George seems OK with his gay-cop buddies, his only regrets being that the regular parties interfere with his sleep.
Sachs is careful to take note of the feelings of the secondary characters. Joey parents begin to think that they teen son is gay when he spends too much time with his only friend, Vlad (Eric Tabach). And Joey, being young, is entirely direct about his anger in having a new roommate thrust upon him. The emphasis throughout is on the emotions of all: Sachs easily finds the relationship of Ben and George to be authentic. They exude loneliness when they’re apart, with George confessing that unlike his benefactors, he is not a party-loving person, preferring to bond with just one other person at a time.
This is a slow-moving film not for the “Transformers” crowd or for those who require the ambience of a 3-D spectacular. The soundtrack, filled with works of Chopin and Beethoven, can be intrusive particularly in the opening scenes that are filled with wall-to-wall piano sonatas. John Lithgow, a giant of the Broadway stage, turns in a memorable performance. When his character and Molina’s kiss you can see that the two must have worked well together throughout their rehearsal time.
Rated R. 98 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+