The various capacities to love and the relationships that can contain love are explored throughout the film Love is Strange, an accurate film title if there ever was one. Directed by Ira Sachs, the film explores the bounds of love when distance of varying degrees is placed between two individuals.
Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) get married after 40 years together, once New York State legalized marriage equality in 2012. Soon after they return from their honeymoon, George is fired from his job as music director at a Catholic school, causing a disarray of finances, with Ben a retired artist, who has hair reminiscent of Bruce Dern in last year’s Nebraska. Without money to afford their apartment, Ben and George have to rely on separate family and friends to provide them with temporary accommodations, after decades of being together. With their living and lifestyle fundamentally changed, these two men in their 60s and 70s face a difficult transition as they adjust to their loved ones who welcome them willingly into their lives.
George takes up at the house of two gay cops, who introduce George to Game of Thrones, have party nights (a little too often, even for cops) and leave their guest without a place to lay his head some nights; he is treated as a peer and not a recently fired school teacher in his 60s. Ben meanwhile takes up with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teen son Joey (Charlie Tahan), with whom he shares the lower bunk in his room. Relationships develop under extenuating circumstances for all involved, as both Ben and George are all but imposing on their friends and family, left with no other option but to rely on their loved ones, for they are quite homeless without them. Thrust into family situations – arguments, work and parenting aspects – Ben has to mind himself, and does so at times but at others interrupts the work and daily life routines of Joey and Kate in particular. Even when presented with the option of government assistance to find housing doesn’t seem to pan out for them, and with only a niece in Poughkeepsie as an option, a true lack of income and shelter makes the reality of the situation even direr and ultimately heartbreaking.
With a soundtrack full of selections from Chopin (most notably Chopin’s Nocturne No 8 in D Flat Major Op 27-2 in an emotional scene between George and a student), Alfred Schnittke and Henryk Wieniawski, the mood of the film is kept hopeful, never dark or foreboding. Even while Ben and George are getting on with their respective lives – apart, for the first time in 40 years – they show signs of separation and the physical and emotional toll that it takes upon them. George looks sad and dejected while Ben looks distant and finds a muse in his art – beginning a painting of a lone teen standing on a rooftop on the Upper East Side. In one of the limited scenes Molina and Lithgow share together, George makes his way across town to see Ben, and following a tearful embrace, take over Joey’s room, splitting bunk beds. Eventually, separated by mere feet, Ben says to George, “I missed your body next to mine and I won’t let bad engineering get in the way”. Of all the moments in the film that exemplify love, this is one of the truest moments.
Love is Strange portrays the many various ways that love is unique, odd and strange, amazing and beautiful, separately or all at the same time. Through the numerous relationships that develop over the course of the film, we see connections between characters are various levels – friends, family, spouse, co-worker and student – each demonstrating a different facet to the grand scope of love. While love is strange, Love is Strange is a fantastic romance film set in a present day reality that is accessible and moving.
Love is Strange is rated R.