Tuesday 16 January 2018

Love is Strange - 'a subtle, beguiling and thoroughly believable wee gem of a film'

Alfred Molina and John Lithgow in Love is Strange
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow in Love is Strange

George Byrne

Drama. Starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez, John Cullum, Eric Tabach. Directed by Ira Sachs. Cert 15A


In a week when the main, multiplex-gobbling release concerns an abusive excuse for a relationship, it's more than refreshing to discover that a distributor has seen fit to go up against that behemoth with this subtle, beguiling and thoroughly believable wee gem of a film.

On the surface, Love is Strange couldn't be more topical for audiences here, considering that a same-sex marriage lies at its core, but it covers much more profound ground than that particular subject.

At the centre of Ira Sachs' story is the relationship between Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who've been together for the best part of 40 years and are such exemplars of sophisticated art-loving Manhattanites that in lesser hands they could border on parody.

Ben is a semi-retired painter while George has been teaching piano and conducting choir practice at a school for more than a decade, and it's the latter's changing circumstances that drive the film.

Availing of New York state's decision to allow same-sex marriage, the pair tie the knot and look forward to seeing out their twilight years in their lovely apartment.

However, the school George works for is a Catholic one and the local bishop invokes a morality clause in his contract of employment, leaving him looking for work. Forced to sell the place where they've lived for 20 years, they come up against prohibitive New York prices and are obliged to live, temporarily (they hope), with other people.

George moves in with two gay NYPD cops on the floor below while Ben finds himself off in Brooklyn with his nephew Elliott (Darren Burrows), his writer wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan).

We soon find that the lovers are truly lost without each other and cut off from a life they came to depend on. The partying lifestyle of the cops leaves George flummoxed, while over in Brooklyn the increasingly fragile Ben feels frustrated, as does Kate who's trying to work from home and is beginning to find his presence annoying.

At the heart of Love is Strange is an examination of being old, in the way and out of sync with a changed world. The performances of Lithgow and Molina are perfectly pitched, the former delivering a career-best turn, while the supporting cast are never less than excellent. Needless to say, the way Sachs shoots Manhattan makes it look like heaven on earth - low autumn sunlight on Central Park always does it for me - but his film is not only a love letter to his home but a love letter to love itself. A beautiful and moving story told with skill and panache, Love is Strange shouldn't be missed.


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