With disarming modesty Love is Strange (2014) transports us into the lives of a couple, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), on their wedding day. After nearly four decades together, they’re finally tying the knot, though troubling ramifications follow. George loses his job soon after as a music teacher at a Catholic school, the hypocrisy of a religious body turning a blind eye when it suits hitting home hard. The couple are unable to maintain their New York apartment with the loss of income and must call on relatives and close friends to take them on as boarders until they find something suitable.
It means separation in the short term and relationships become strained as Ben lands with his beloved nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows), and his novelist wife Kate (Marisa Tomei). He’s also drawn into the life of the couple’s son, Joey (Charlie Tahan), whose bed he’s usurped, creating more tension, especially for Kate who’s Joey’s stepmother only and has trouble communicating with the boy at the best of times. George must endure his separation in the often overcrowded apartment of close gay friends. The generally younger crowd rotating through the apartment leaves him feeling increasingly alienated from Ben and their interrupted lifestyle.
Director Ira Sachs and his co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have given their screenplay depth and perspective. Love is Strange is a wonderful gem of a film – a tender, humanistic portrait of ordinary lives encountering ordinary obstacles. The friction that exists in families, especially in cramped confines when people are stepping on one another’s toes, is believably, and often painfully, captured. But there’s humour and optimism here in abundance too in the way other themes are treated, such as the resentful attitude of youth towards experience, often at the cost of familial serenity.
The vast void of Ben and George’s combined past is touched upon, reverberating as it must with the sore points, wounding betrayals and tiny scars that, though never forgotten, have added those deeper layers of meaningful endurance attributable to the couple. Lithgow and Molina, especially, are superb in the leads, though you wouldn’t expect anything less from two actors who seem to age like fine wines. Sachs, whose previous work includes the flawed Married Life (2008), perhaps overdoes it with his use of Chopin to reiterate emotional contexts, however the films delivers a series of sublime moments in which the intimacy of the couple’s years together in enhanced by both the music and the eternally comfortable silence they share.