|Left to right: Alfred Molina and John Lithgow|
In director Ira Sach’s Love is Strange, unforeseen circumstances await two elderly gay newlyweds that threaten to affect their way of living, as the film explores not only of how love can overcome prejudice, but how it can also survive in a place of hopelessness when nobody is around that cares. While its subject matter is heavy, the film’s success comes from the light, naturalistic approach to a couple in their autumn years awaiting those brief moments of happiness.
The film begins with what George (Alfred Molina) describes as the “best day of my life”: a wedding to longtime partner Ben (John Lithgow). With a vibrant wedding that brings everyone together, it begins jubilant and carefree. Shortly after, George gets fired from his job as choir instructor at a Catholic school and Ben gets reduced to just being a painter. As can be predicted, this is largely due to the notion that being gay has in New York, even in modern and more progressive times. The results force the couple to live off of relatives’ couches, miles apart and without a sense of respect from those around them.
The moments of bliss come from when they are together drinking at a bar and cracking jokes. They have come to admire the fleeting moments that they have together. The rest of the time is filled with wild parties or homophobic cousins that cause discomfort in their places of rest. While there are those few who support them in hard times, they still are unable to feel fully appreciated. Even when they try to reach out, there is no hope of others fully understanding them not only as gay men, but as senior citizens in general. It is a complicated analysis that manages to cover so much in its brisk run time of 98 minutes.
The film is led by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina’s endearing chemistry. Even in times of squalor, they find a reason to laugh. They seem to be having the best time together and enjoy the simpler things in life. It helps to keep the mood upbeat and while the comedy may be a little light, it has a profound impact on how sweet this film ends up feeling. Even when apart, these two have charismatic conversations with others that shows off the quieter side that is looking for connection. When viewed as a character piece, this is quite successful at making their struggles feel like an understatement. Love comes first, and that may be the strongest aspect of the film.
Love is Strange is quite an endearing depiction not just of gay marriage, but of love in general. Led by two great comedic performances, the film manages to capture romance in ways that feel small but important. What results is a compelling story that comes off authentic and captures passion from a demographic that feels largely ignored. It manages to be striking, emotional, and most of all human. There are moments that don’t quite mesh, but it is compensated by the chemistry of the stellar cast. It may seem a little simple in execution, but that is mostly because of how effectively the leads pull it off.