Love Is Strange

September 1, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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Perhaps the strangest thing about this film is it’s title. In fact, if anything, the theme of the movie seems to be that love is ordinary. That, gay or straight, love is really a very ordinary thing. Ben and George (played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, respectively) have been together 39 years, living most of that time in the small apartment they bought in New York City. The film starts on their wedding day in 2013, surrounded by a small group of family and friends. Shortly thereafter, George is fired from his job at the local Catholic high school. Unable to maintain their home on Ben’s pension, they are forced to sell it and live separately with friends/family while they regroup. The film is essentially the story of these men living apart for the first time in four decades and the stress that puts on them and the people they live with.  For all of that, this is not a sad movie. It’s light, funny, sweet and feels deeply real. Director/Writer, Ira Sachs’s last film (“Keep the Lights On”) was, in some ways, the opposite of this one. It followed a young gay couple as they met, fell in love and then fell apart over the course of 10 years. That story was of the heart-wrenching failure of love over many years. This one is of love’s success, as seen over just a few months. However, what they both share, is a sense truthfulness about relationships. All of the interactions, every scene and bit of dialogue, felt believable to me; nothing was cloying or overly dramatic. Much of the core drama of the film lies in the relationship between Ben’s nephew (who he is staying with), his wife and his teenage son. They argue about the sort of silly mundane things that we tend to fight about and Ben watches as an uncomfortable witness to it all. If there is any meaning to the film title, it might be as commentary on the teenage son, Joey’s relationship with his best friend. We are clearly meant to suspect something between them, as Ben and the boy’s mother do. But what? Unlike the graphic nature of “Keep the Lights On,” everything here is dealt with with great subtlety. Perhaps the two boys are involved sexually. Perhaps they’re in love. Or just experimenting. Or there is an unrequited love. It’s unclear to everyone, including perhaps to Joey. This could have been played to great dramatic effect, with several opportunities for sweeping monologues on love, acceptance, etc. Fortunately, Sachs is a much better writer and director than that. Instead, we have some beautiful scenes were something could have been said, where Ben could have intervened with sage advice but, as is more often true, nothing profound is said and life goes on. I was struck particularly by an argument at the dinner table between dad and son. A lesser director would have turned it into a “learning moment,” giving Ben a noble soliloquy. Instead, he chooses realism to much greater effect. This tone, of simply letting life live as really as possible on film, pervades the whole movie and makes the bittersweet ending so well earned.  And it is so bittersweet, so melancholic and joyful and uncertain all in the same moment.  In the darkness of the rolling credits, I felt more complexity of emotion than most films are capable of.  I walked out feeling a little happy and a little sad and quite touched. Much like real life.

 

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