Co-Writer and Director, Ira Sachs is back a year later after his alluring, “Keep The Lights On”, with an equally compelling film entitled, “Love is Strange, about love in the face of life’s obstacles. Once again Sachs co-wrote the film with Mauricio Zacharias to tell a new story about the incredible
strength of love when it’s tested against the trials and tribulations of aging, and in this case, the loss of a job and home, which ultimately separates the longstanding couple.
With perfect casting in the two leads, our couple is beautifully played by John Lithgow (Ben) and Alfred Molina (George). From the moment the film begins the audience is treated to a frenetic morning of stirring and dressing, rolling of the eyes and typical bickering that only the best longterm relationships often display. We learn that this particular morning is the wedding day of our couple who are racing to get to their outdoor venue, which is filled with a small, but loving group of family and friends. ‘Family’, in this case, as in many gay lives, often means long term close friendships that have developed over time, and therefore are now considered family, especially when real family isn’t present due to proximity, disagreement of lifestyle or simply age. In this case, these loving friends are played by Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez, the hilarious Harriet Sansom (Bebe Glazer from FRASIER), and a standout performance by Marisa Tomei who’s character is married to the nephew (Elliot) of John Lithgow’s character, played by Darren E. Burrows. Together they convene to celebrate the union of Ben and George as they all laugh, tell stories and sing at the couple’s West Village apartment. Soon after the joyous day, we learn that George, who teaches music at a Catholic School for quite some time, is about to lose his job for breaking the Diocese rule of marriage between same sex couples. George and Ben must sell their apartment, with Ben moving to his nephew’s place, while George moves to a neighbor’s spot. The situation couldn’t be more inconvenient, not simply because Ben is now sleeping in his nephew’s bunk bed, and George is sleeping on a neighbor’s couch, or even that George can’t seem to find a replacement job, but mostly because the couple have to learn to live apart from each other.
Director Ira Sachs recently told the San Francisco Film Society blog, that “It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I found myself in a relationship where I could actually imagine love blooming, and growing deeper, with time. I wanted to make a film about how my own relationship – my own marriage – might feel 30 years from now, as imperfect as ever, but with its kindness intact.” It’s this imaginative, yet personal storytelling that makes “Love is Strange” such an intimate portrait believable, and has the audience compassionate about these two lovable, yet imperfect characters. The same is true with his last film, “Keep the Lights On”, which was originally drawn from Sach’s real life story of two people who meet on a sex telephone chat line and develop a 10-year tumultuous relationship, but together with co-writer Zacharias, they were able to flesh out an original, yet mesmerizing storyline.
Casting Molina and Lithgow as a couple that have been together for years, and don’t know any other life outside of their relationship was key to having the audience bond immediately with the couple, and story. Both actors show a sensitive side of themselves as it relates to separation, when the realities of life get in the way of love. A subtle, yet realistic performance by Tomei is integral to the story, showing the frustrations family members sometimes face when we have to live together under one roof. Charlie Tahan (“Charlie St. Cloud”), who plays Joey, the son of Tomei and Elliot, is growing up into a compelling young teenage actor who adds to the complicated layers of “Love is Strange”.
At the heart of “Love is Strange” is a beautiful modern day love story where audiences will have compassion, and smile at the ‘strange’ path love can sometimes follow.