Love is Strange

Year: 2014
Production Co: Parts and Labor
Director: Ira Sachs
Writer: Ira Sachs/Mauricio Zacharias
Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei

It seems like every time I cover a gay love story I reference Ang Lee's assertion that Brokeback Mountain was about two people who fall in love, not a gay love story (and how wrong he was about that assertion because of how inherently politicised it was).

And I have to do so here too, because Love is Strange felt more to me about how we have shared habits, ways of keeping our homes, etc with our spouse or partner that aren't apparent until tension arises from trying to retain those habits when you have to live in someone else's house. That the couple at the centre are two gay men in their 60s or 70s was incidental.

We meet George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow) as they're fussily preparing to finally get married after what feels like a lifetime of comfortable cohabitation together. It goes off without a hitch and Lithgow's and Molina's performances at the reception among family and friends afterwards cement what feels like a genuine love that's existed for decades.

The only effect of the love story being about two men is that George's employer – the religious private school where he teaches music – can't ignore his orientation any more now he's married, and fires him.

With no income they can't afford to stay in their apartment, and after the reshuffling and sorting out of lives and spare rooms, they go to live with various grown kids with their own families in spare or shared bedrooms until they can sort their situation out.

Each situation is pleasant though strained, and neither Ben or George or their families are completely comfortable. But the tension is portrayed beautifully through small, quiet, realistic notes – there's no throwing of cups against the wall or grand speeches about discrimination or economics.

It's just in the way Ben is chatty with his daughter in law Kate (Marisa Tomei) and you can see her furrowed brow as she tries to work but can't because of the distraction, or the way George sits on the couch uncomfortably while garrulous parties go on around him.

Because it's a slight and sweet and earnest little film you don't feel like it's ever going to explode into an all-out fight or heartbreak so there aren't a lot of places it can go, but where it does end up is strange (though I'm sure that's not what's referenced by the title).

I can't say anything about what actually happens except that it's both a bit heartbreaking and suddenly jarring in the last 10 minutes, like someone left out a reel or something.

The other weird note is Ben's son, a creepy long haired Eurotrash villain type like a knock-off Alexander Gudonov. Instead of a caring but stoic family man he always seems like he's about to produce a hatchet and axe everyone to death, and I can only think he must be the producer's son in law or something. But Molina and Lithgow are perfect in their roles and have beautiful chemistry and it's a pleasure to watch them.

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