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Love Is Strange - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Love Is Strange
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

There's an ironic sort of equality that Love Is Strange represents. This is a movie about a gay couple, yet that won't by any means be the reason few people are likely to see it. The reason for that, actually, would be that it's a movie about an older couple. I guess that just makes it a different kind of equality, I suppose -- except that when it comes to the bottom line, movies about old people really don't rake in the dough. Nobody much cares that it's about gay people.

And it's too bad, because Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are excellent. The script, co-written by director Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, could easily have been adapted to be about an elderly straight couple, and with the right actress as the wife, such a story could have been just as affecting: one of them loses their job; they are forced to sell their condo; they put a strain on local relatives who can only host one of them, separately, until they find a new place. It's a testament to Molina and Lithgow that they show the poignancy of this struggle with equal skill regardless of the gender of the characters' partners.

Their is a uniqueness to this particular couple's situation, however. The movie opens with Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina) getting married, after three decades of being together. This is New York City in 2013, and same-sex marriage has recently been legalized in the state. They are surrounded by said family, who are all thrilled for them. It's a lovely, touching sequence, filled with joy.

But it turns out this wedding is the catalyst for the story that follows, and a particularly topical one. George works as a music director at a Catholic school, where archbishops have caught wind of photos of the wedding, "on Facebook, of all places," George's clearly shortsighted superior tells him. George has worked for this school for ten years, was never secretive about being gay, but somehow only the act of getting married -- as opposed to being openly gay all this time -- violates the contract he signed upon being hired. He is fired effective immediately.

To its immense credit, Love Is Strange never gets preachy about this. Sachs lets the event speak for itself, largely due to the number of identical stories we've already heard in the news. We don't need the movie to tell us to be incensed about this, and Sachs knows it. He merely shows us how it affects the lives of the people involved.

George moves in with the younger couple of gay cops (played by Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) downstairs in their apartment building, ostensibly to sleep on their couch. But they constantly have guest over late into the evening, sometimes outright parties. George is often reduced to twiddling his thumbs, waiting for the opportunity to go to sleep.

Ben moves into the two-bedroom apartment with his loving nephew Elliott (Darren E. Burrows ); Elliott's frustrated wife Kate (Marissa Tomei); and their petulant son Joey (Charlie Tahan). This family has problems of their own, and while Ben is there, sleeping on a bunk bed with Joey in his room, Ben struggles not to get in the middle of them. He doesn't realize the degree to which he himself is the problem.

Tensions build, but never explode, and it's refreshing to see a depiction of such difficult situations where no one in particular is a villain. These are simply people with their own personalities that don't necessarily mesh with each other well, and it's easy to relate to each of them and their particular point of view.

To call Love Is Strange poignant and touching is somewhat of an understatement, as we watch Ben and George struggle with being apart, and their families and friends shoulder their burdens because of how much they love them. For Lithgow's and Molina's parts, they present a truly lived-in relationship, with an unquestionable physical bond. It's painful to see how much living apart pains them. And when they are together, their commitment shows through, with just a sprinkling of details of their long life together. They didn't always see eye to eye, but they are truly committed to one another.

The ending is somewhat bittersweet, but feels appropriate, even if it seems to hang on a little too long to young Joey, and how getting to know his great Uncle Ben affected him. It could also be argued that in the end Ben and George's luck turns on something a bit contrived, but that's easily overlooked. Nothing that happens in this movie is impossible, after all, and sometimes the rarest forms of luck (or bad luck) really do happen in life.

And so it goes with Love Is Strange, which finds the universal heart in the most specific of circumstances.

Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are victims of homophobic circumstance in LOVE IS STRANGE.

Overall: A-
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