Movie Review: “Love Is Strange” Is An Authentic Slice Of Life

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Review by James McDonald

After Ben and George get married, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing — a situation that weighs heavily on all involved.

“Love is Strange” is a story about two gay men and their struggles with everyday life but it’s not a story about two gay people, it’s a story about two people who love and care for each other who just happen to be gay, there’s a big difference. The movie doesn’t over-accentuate anything as it could have very well been a story about a man and a woman, it simply sets out to tell the tale and does so beautifully. One of the film’s defining strengths lies in its ability to not have to identify specific characters through their sexual preference, we’re smart people, we already know and the movie, thankfully, never panders to the audience in order to show us who’s who.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a couple who have been together for almost forty years. Shortly after tying the knot in a small ceremony amongst family and friends, George is fired from his job at a Christian school where he has taught music for twelve years. They realize that between George’s sparse private music lessons and Ben’s pension, they have to sell their lower Manhattan apartment and move into a smaller, more affordable location. After having sold their home quicker than expected, they are compelled to talk to their family and friends about staying with them until they find a new abode.

Naturally, everyone offers to help but because their friends’ homes are not very accommodating, both men end up having to stay at different locations around the city which means they don’t get to see each other until the weekends as neither own a car. Director Ira Sachs has created an authentic movie full of legitimate and genuine characters that we can all identify with. Watching the aging Ben try to adapt to life with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and son Joey (Charlie Tahan) is, at times, comical but other times it is just plain awkward. George stays with two friends who are much younger and party all the time so he has no choice but to stay up with them as going to bed earlier would make no difference whatsoever.

Both Mr. Lithgow and Mr. Molina have made a name for themselves being very adept at playing both good guy and bad guy roles. Both actors, with a simple glance or gesture, can generate hatred and loathing towards them but in an instant, with a kindly smile or a pat on the back, can, effortlessly, transpose a situation so that you can’t imagine a movie without them. “Love is Strange” doesn’t set out to change the course of filmmaking or aspire to become the next big thing, on the contrary, director Ira Sachs tells his story using an old-fashioned, conventional approach that is welcomed with open arms. It’s not often that a filmmaker, in today’s climate, can tell a wonderful story full of rich, vibrant characters and actually let you see everything that is happening onscreen.

The dreaded ‘shaky-cam’ has burrowed its way into the public’s consciousness and we don’t often get a movie that just sets out to tell its story and employ the camera to do what it was originally intended for: to record the images that will be projected onto the screen. Here, the characters and the story take over and we are able to listen to and see every minute detail without being tossed into a whirlwind of precarious and unsteady camera techniques that were obviously created with one outcome in mind: headache-inducing nausea. In the end, “Love is Strange” is about family and friendship, loyalty and devotion, love and respect and after helping others, it’s about finding the humbleness to be helped.

Click here to watch an interview I had with the film’s writer and director Ira Sachs

In select theaters August 28th. To see if it’s near you click here. Opens on September 5th and at the Angelika in Dallas and Plano

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James McDonald
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