When I think about love, I think about my grandparents. When my grandfather had passed on, they had been married 54 yrs, together for over 56 and know each other their entire lives. I remember days on end when they would bicker about where to eat that evening or how my grandfather would make my grandmother laugh at his silly dances or jokes, just for her. Nothing about their life was extravagant, some may even call it boring, but it was love. In “Love Is Strange”, director and co-writer Ira Sachs latest feature, we see those lost relationships of of grandparents. Those that are beyond the zing but are soul filling, encompassing and standing the tests of “for worse.”
We meet Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) on the morning of their wedding day and immediately see their differing personalities, yet, also an ease in which they flow together. After the nuptials take place, they celebrate in the New York City apartment they have shared for over 20 yrs with close friends and family members such as Ben’s nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows), Elliot’s wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan). They play piano, sing, and drink champagne as the family toasts to their happiness and holds them up as examples of what love truly is.
George, a music teacher in a Catholic school, gets fired because of his marriage despite knowing he is gay and had been living with his partner of 39 yrs. With George out of a job, they can no longer afford the mortgage on their home as he was the main provider while Ben was a painter of no real acclaim that we know of. They are forced to sell their home, and live separately with friends and family until they can find the funds, and an affordable apartment in the city.
Ben moves in with his nephew and family, while George stays with their downstairs neighbors “the police women”, two handsome gay cops, Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez) who also happen to be a couple. Neither fitting into their surroundings and both dealing with not only the loss of their home, but of each other’s company. As Ben says, “When you live with people, you get to know them better than you want to,” you can see that resonating across the board from both Ben and George but also with the family and the cops.
Each opening scene you hope for a resolution, either for George to find a job, or Ben’s family to connect with him or the cops to stop partying and let poor George sleep. But, playing true to life, sometimes resolutions come when you least expect it, and even, a little too late.
What Love is Strange does is take a look at long term love from the inside. There is no grand gestured romance scenes, but yet, you can feel how devoted these two men are to each other. If you’ve ever had guests staying with you for extended periods of time, you feel for Kate and her frustrations at losing her time to create and work, and Joey’s teen angst and loss of privacy. There are holes hear and there, however, like we never see what’s really going on with Kate and Elliot, in fact, what’s really going on with Elliot at all. The film never states why the parents have an issue with seemingly the only friend Joey has other than “it’s weird.”
But the holes are often forgotten by fabulous performances by the entire cast. Lithgow’s portrayal of quiet Uncle Ben is softly moving and witty, while Molina’s performance is emotional and hits right to your heart. Love is Strange is not your typical Hollywood romance, rather, it’s the type of romance that should be on screens more often. It’ll leave you a little sad, a little happy, hoping to be as lucky as my grandparents, and Ben and George.
Love is Strange is rated R and opens August 22.