I have a confession. Once I saw the title, I was truly hoping that Love is Strange would feature John Lithgow and Alfred Molina doing a cover version of Mickey & Sylvia’s classic ditty. Alas, I was to be disappointed. No such luck.
After nearly 40 years together, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have decided to get married. As a result of this act, George loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school. No longer able to afford the rent on their Manhattan residence, the two scramble to find living arrangements. George still receives some income from the music lessons he provides locally. In order to stay close to his students, George sleeps on the couch in the small apartment of their sympathetic neighbors. Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez) are two cops. Ben on the other hand stays in Brooklyn with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan). Their distant residences gives way to a unique set of issues with which each man must deal.
Love is Strange highlights a sterling ensemble cast. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are extraordinarily good. Through the construct of Ben and George’s situational living development, drama from their everyday lives is extracted. George likes classical music and reading books. His desires don’t quite mesh with the hip party loving atmosphere of his hosts. There is an amusing scene of party revelers dancing to bass heavy music filmed in close-ups. I was certain these people were in a club only to have the camera pull back to reveal them just hanging out in a tiny apartment. Meanwhile struggling writer Kate, the wife of Ben’s nephew, politely listens to Ben’s ramblings while trying to finish her novel. Marisa Tomei gives an exquisitely sophisticated performance that showcases the various sacrifices being made by the family.
American director Ira Sachs’ work is clearly a movie made for devotees of reflective film and not mainstream box office. Sachs also co-produced and writes this account of disparate relationships. The fabricated arrangement gives way to some admittedly contrived situations manufactured in the interest of extracting a reaction. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are extraordinarily good as the displaced couple. They lend a gravity to their characters that raise this chronicle to a higher level. Despite the narrative’s handling of the hot button topic of same sex marriage, the real story exploits genuine emotion as it deals with the many-sided personalities in an extended family. This is a subtle production that has universal appeal. Whether they’re singing at a piano to guests at a party or reflecting on what has become of their lives in separate bunk beds, Molina and Lithgow give nuanced performances. Yet the script accomplishes so much more. Love is Strange is a well written drama that beautifully handles the observational insights of a family tree and the way a simple crisis affects its many branches.