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Love Is Strange: A Movie Review

August 2, 2014

 

Director: Ira Sachs

Love_is_Strange_-_Poster                                         by Twylo Enmamud
This movie is special to me for three reasons; the first being that I am actually in it. It’s just a small non-speaking background part, but I can be seen as a guest in two scenes that come very early in the film; Ben and George’s wedding, and their reception.
The second reason is because I was granted the opportunity through media connections to see an early pre-release screening of the movie — thank you, TJ! The official release date of Love Is Strange is Friday, August 22nd.
And last, but not least; from a purely objective perspective [insert smiley face] it is a good film!
Love is strange is the story of life-long partners Ben (played by John Lithgow) and George (played by Alfred Molina) who, after being together for 39 years, are finally able to outwardly express their commitment to each other when the laws are changed allowing same-sex couples to marry. They have a lovely garden wedding, and a reception in their cozy apartment with a few of their relatives and close friends from over the years. Everything seems to be going well until George, who is their main breadwinner, loses his job; well, not so much loses it, as he is fired from it. George is the director of the music department at a distinguished catholic school.

The administration knows that he is gay, and has been with his partner, Ben, for years, but when word of his marriage gets around to the archdiocese, he is suddenly, and without fanfare terminated from his position.

Alfred Molina (l.) and John Lithgow (r.) take their vows as George & Ben.

Alfred Molina (l.) and John Lithgow (r.) take their vows as George & Ben.

 

Being a religious and humble man, George is not inclined to “act up” over his loss. While he does express his profound disappointment to the principle, he takes it on the cheek, and walks away. After firing

him, the principle professes his hope that this does not lessen George’s faith in God, and invites him to pray together before he leaves the office. George affirms that it is not his faith in God that he has lost, and summarily rejects the principles offer, stating that he would prefer to pray alone.

George gets the news that he is fired.

George gets the news that he is fired.

George’s husband, Ben, is an artist, albeit a “not very successful” one, who also collects a pension.  And although George does get a few extra bucks from teaching piano lessons after he is fired, their combined income is not enough for them to sustain the tax obligations on the condo they share in Manhattan’s West Village. They are forced to sell at a ridiculously low profit, and make alternative living arrangements till

they can find a new place.  None of their

Family and friends of Ben and George meet to discuss living arrangements for the pair.

Family and friends of Ben and George meet to discuss living arrangements for the pair.

relatives or friends can accommodate both of them together, so Ben ends up staying with his nephew Elliot, who lives in an average-sized two bedroom apartment with his wife Kate, and their son, Joey. Ben has to share a bedroom with Joey where he gets the bottom of the bunk bed.

The apartment is of course too small for them to all co/exist without starting to get on one another’s nerves.  As Ben puts it, in a telephone conversation with his wayward spouse, “When you live with people, you know them better than you care to.”

George ends up in an equally (if not more) nerve-racking situation when he moves in with

friends; a gay couple who live in the same building where he and Ben had their apartment. Ted and

Marisa Tomei as Kate tries to wake up Ben so that her son, Joey, can have some privacy in his room.

Marisa Tomei as Kate tries to wake up Ben so that her son, Joey, can have some privacy in his room.

Roberto (played respectively by Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) are both cops who are in their late twenties. They often have impromptu get-togethers, parties, and loud game nights where they enthusiastically play Dungeons And Dragons, much to the chagrin of George who is in his sixties and used to a much more calm and quiet lifestyle. One night George gets so frustrated over the situation that he runs over to Elliot’s apartment in the rain crying and seeking the comfort of his husband’s arms. In the process he displaces an already disgruntled Joey to the living room sofa for the night.

Through these tenuous living arrangements director, Ira Sachs explores three generations of relationships, and their varying outlooks on life, love, friendship and making a living in a city that can often be uncompromising and unforgiving.
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow have an easy rapport with each other, and they are very

Charlie Tahan as Joey, looks on as uncle Ben paints a portrait of his best buddy, Vlad, played by Eric Tabach.

Charlie Tahan as Joey, looks on as uncle Ben paints a portrait of his best buddy, Vlad, played by Eric Tabach.

believable as the married couple George and Ben. But due to the plot twist of them having to live separately, I don’t think we see them interacting with one another enough to get a really visceral sense of their relationship. Although their feelings for one another were clearly portrayed, I found myself wanting to know more about the ins and outs of their daily life together. But perhaps this is just a matter of the director’s personal choice or style. Ira Sachs has said that he prefers the asthetic use of innuendo at times

Marisa Tomei and Darren Burrows and maried couple, kate and Elliot, share a "not so intimate" moment.

Marisa Tomei and Darren Burrows and married couple, Kate and Elliot, share a “not so intimate” moment.

instead of displaying all the graphic details in front of your face. Indeed, there are times in Love is Strange where the “technicality” of transition is forgone, and we are left suddenly with the outcome.

One such scene comes when we know that Ben and George can no longer afford the up-keep of their condo, and their future is uncertain – cut to scene of seventy-seven year old Ben waking up and climbing out of the lower section of the bunk bed he now shares with Joey. (problem solved) It sort of works –in a comical way– with this particular scene, and Sachs clearly gets across his point, but I found the results of this “cut to the chase” technique to be a bit jarring at other times.  I don’t wont to give too much of the story away, so I wont go into detail on this minor point.

But over-all, Love Is Strange is beautifully done. It is accompanied by a soundtrack that is almost

George giving a private piano lesson.

George giving a private piano lesson.

exclusively Chopin. And while this does seem to strike the right chords, I felt that the volume could have been moderated more thoughtfully at times.

Darren Burrows and Marisa Tomei put in top-notch performances as Elliot and Kate, who, in addition to having their own marital problems and having to contend with the difficulties of raising adolescent, angst-ridden son, Joey, must now also accommodate uncle Ben.
The character, Joey, played sullenly by young Charlie Tahan, seems to be the most put upon in the film. He is resentful that his privacy has been invaded, and that he has to share his room with “uncle Ben.“ And he makes no attempt to mask his annoyance. There is a scene where his best buddy, Vlad (Eric Tabach), comes over to study, but ends up on the rooftop with Ben, posing for a painting. Joey walks into the scene, annoyed, and criticizes the painting remarking, “Oh, that’s so gay.” He then insults Ben’s artistic skills,

That’s me on the left with my friend Joanna and another actor. This is a still from a short, funny video on the experience of being background actor. Click on the picture!

That’s me on the left with my friend Joanna and another actor on the set of Love Is Strange. This is a still from a short, funny video on the experience of being a background actor. Click on the picture!

and storms off in a huff. But beneath the surface, Ira Sachs’ seems to insinuate that there may be more to Joey‘s acting out than his annoyance at being inconvenienced. It may be that Joey is trying to come to terms with his own burgeoning sexual identity, and having his gay uncle constantly around is forcing him to face the issue head on.

Love Is Strange is definitely a movie that I would recommend, and not only because I’m in it. [insert winky face]

I give Love Is Strange 4 stars:

3.5 star

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