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LOVE IS STRANGE, a film, unaffectedly directed by Ira Sachs, is so
natural and unassuming in its portrayal of relationships that the
divide between audience and the characters on the screen disappears; we
are directly slipping into their lives with the ease of familiarity.
There is a formal beauty to the movie, thanks to the cinematography of
Christos Voudouris - the way he captures each space - delineated not
only through décor, but through the light which mutates with the
atmosphere, very much like a Chardin still-life painting, classic in
its grandeur and silence.
The plot revolves around two gay men who have lived together for 39 years and finally get married, a decision that will alter their lives in ways that are unexpected and transforming. We first meet Ben, a seventy-one year old artist, (John Lithgow in a breathtaking performance) and his partner George (Alfred Molina in an equally fine portrayal,) a music teacher in a Catholic school - both excitedly, and nervously preparing for the ceremony and the post- wedding party. From the moment we first view Lithgow and Molina singing a duet together - their voices and theatrics in synch and at odds - tender intimacy is apparent. Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have created two remarkably gentle and loving individuals, their intimacy and enduring connection, is both understated and powerfully passionate.
The consequences of ultimately legitimizing their union bear witness to the harsh realities that accompany that choice. Soon after the nuptials, George gets fired from his job, and the economic demands of existing in NYC, forced to sell the apartment in order to find more affordable housing, interrupts their former cadence of living. Having no alternative, George and Ben, temporarily separate to move in with friends and relatives till they can find a home of their own. Molina and Lithgow stunningly convey the anguish of living apart and the intense longing of being united again. It is as if one person is sliced in half going through the motions, but not fully functioning without the other.
LOVE IS STRANGE also references the mysterious corridor of generational diversity - both fractious and enriching. The anxious, rebellious teenager slowly embracing life's uncertainties embodied by Joey, Ben's great-nephew in an excellent performance by Charlie Tahan who is likable, secretive and obnoxious an eternal artifact of an adolescent's growing awareness of life's promises and aching discomforts. And approaching mid-life, are his parents - Kate (Marisa Tomei - a natural wonder) - a writer trying to meet the demands of motherhood and still do her own work and Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) a father too wrapped up in doing business (supporting the family?) to notice the splintering family dynamic. Tomei's facial expressions convey a woman's inner tug-of-war between being a caregiver and accomplishing her own ambitions, shifting from haggardly frustrated to a luminous empathy, particularly for the growing pains of her son on the cusp of adulthood.
Director Ira Sachs has given us a tone poem to the beauty, delight and fragility of living in a city - New York - dynamic, diverse and constantly changing, echoing the vicissitudes of life as we stumble through our own personal unfolding. A love story that has depth and endurance - delicate and supple, both romantic and mundane, LOVE IS STRANGE is wrenchingly lovely and generous, but also a reminder that nothing is permanent.
My partner and I were really looking forward to this movie - a story about a loving mature gay couple dealing with some harsh realities, played by some wonderful actors. While I found the acting to be generally good, the writing and direction were uneven and confusing. First the good: the two leads are wonderful and understated playing the gay couple who've been together for 39 years, now facing the realities of being temporarily homeless, and separated from each other. Now the bad: the whole premise of the movie, that this couple found it necessary to each find separate temporary living arrangements while trying to find a new apartment, stretched all credibility. I found this unbelievable, especially when they had the option to live together with a relative outside the city. For some reason, they felt it imperative to live separately in the city even though neither was now employed. The whole movie seems so contrived that it seems the writers chose almost any situation to advance the film so that it got to the ending that they had written, whether it made sense or not. The idea of two late 60s/early 70s men with no apparent savings/pension/income to be able to maintain their condo for at least a little while also stretched credibility - instead they selfishly share their predicament with relatives and friends and crash separately with them. The writers/director have created a story with so many holes and illogical story paths that I found myself annoyed and angry with the characters. John Lithgow's character seems oblivious to the fact that he is becoming an imposition to his nephew's family, especially to his nephew's young 15 year old son with whom he is sharing bunk beds. While I hardly expect everything in a movie to be sewn up neatly by the end, the writers introduced characters and story lines that the viewer was lead to believe mattered- but were dropped and never resolved. Who was the young boy's friend Vlad? What was behind the tension between the nephew and his wife? Why did Vlad and the young boy steal French lit books? What's up with the disco/party cops? Why the extended sob scene of the boy in the stairwell at the end? Has the movie become about him? A considerable time is spent on each of these items in the movie and yet there are no answers, and they don't seem relevant to what the story should have been about. A different director, one who was not also the writer, might have helped make this a better movie. I also couldn't help but think that this was a 2 hour movie that was cut to 90 minutes and the answers were left on the floor somewhere.
There is only one thing I didn't like about this film: the title. It's
so bland. And it doesn't even have anything to do with what this film
is about. It's not about a strange love affair, but about a very normal
Apart from that, I liked everything about 'Love is Strange'. It is a film about how people live, love, talk, help each other out, appreciate each other and sometimes work on each other's nerves. Maybe that doesn't sound too exciting, but it's enough to keep on watching, and be moved by what you see.
The film tells the story of an older couple, who are forced to leave their Manhattan apartment after one of them is fired from his teaching position. They temporarily move in with relatives and neighbours, until they have found a new place of their own. The film shows the interaction between civilized and polite people who are all perfectly willing to help each other, but nevertheless are increasingly annoyed by the uneasy situations caused by the arrangement.
Some scenes are funny in an understated way, and make you softly chuckle in your seat. Others are emotional, but never melodramatic. I think the word that best describes the general mood of the picture is 'heartfelt'. The director does a perfect job in balancing the emotions. Some scenes are very elongated and show little action, which gives an intense effect in combination with the wonderful and very prominent soundtrack consisting of piano pieces by Chopin. The music has a special meaning, because it is the music that one of the lead characters teaches his piano pupils.
The couple is gay, but that doesn't really matter. The film could just as well have been about a straight couple, with some minor script changes. But the couple fits in perfectly in the liberal, open minded, intellectual New York circles where the movie is set. (The sort of people who think it's almost impossible to survive in Poughkeepsie when you're used to Manhattan). In fact, those are exactly the same circles Woody Allen prefers for his films, and sometimes 'Love is Strange' reminded me of Allen's best films, like 'Blue Jasmine', minus the usual neurotic behaviour by the lead characters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was very excited to see this film. The idea of a mature gay couple finally able to get married and then that act causing one of them to lose his job is an all too common occurrence, especially for those employed in religious education. As the movie began and the film got going, I was very intrigued, particularly when they lost their apartment and were forced, by their desire to stay in Manhattan, to live apart with friends/family. However, that's when the movie started to go awry. We were introduced to several minor characters who never get fully developed. Some disappear altogether(Harriet Harris), some virtually disappear (Christina Kirk), some lack all sense of development (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez), and then there is the family unit of Marissa Tomei and her husband, and their son and his friend Vlad. I am realistic enough to understand that not everything in life gets tied up neatly in a little bow, but this film left too many questions unanswered. The parents had a clear rift in their relationship that implied infidelity on the part of the husband, yet we never discovered if that was true or what happened to them. There was clearly something between their son and Vlad whether it be sexual, drug related, etc. Again, that is never resolved for us, in spite of a very confusing situation concerning stolen books that made me think we were building to some kind of climactic resolution...and then nothing. Knowing that the writer also directed the piece, this is a prime example of why that is often a bad idea. Maybe another director could have gotten a little more perspective and distance and kept this film from being as A.D.D. as it felt to me, especially the ending, which felt very abrupt as if they ran out of time and had to quickly shoot the final two scenes. All in all, fine performances by the lead actors, and the framework of a film that, in other hands, might have been a much more moving and successful piece. (Final thought, no movie needs a three minute single shot of a kid crying in a stairwell. There is moving and then there is emotional masturbation. This is the latter.)
LOVE IS STRANGE should have been better than it is. Interesting story and premise, but something was left out. Don't know if scenes were cut out or maybe never even filmed, but it's quite disappointing and it could have been so good. Acting is above par for the most part, especially Marisa Tomei. Two two lead actors couldn't have been better, but they weren't given much to work with. Fair cinematography and editing and the music score score was a nice touch and fit well with the Malina Character, him being a music instructor. What doesn't ring true is that they had to separate by living in different places. Very phone in that respect. The two gay cops were not necessary and their parties they threw were more for college co-eds than grown adults. Did not make sense. More annoying was the accent on the nephew. The whole ending centered around him which was ludicrous. A very serious mistake was when the nephew was waiting for Ben to come home. He's waiting in front of the apartment with nothing but his skateboard in hand. Once they get into the apartment and talk for a few minutes, the nephew hands him a large paper painting!! How in the hell did the painting get into the apartment as the kid only had his skateboard. Didn't the writers, director, the camera people, the crew or even the actors question this huge mistake?? Then again, the boy leaves and the camera stays on him a good couple of minutes as he cries!! Fair first act and very poor second act and ending.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Here's a look at two older guys that get married and encounter some
problems. Seems the Molina character looses his job so the Catholic
Church is the only hint of a villain in the movie. The scenes with
Lithgow together with Molina work best, when separated everything feels
contrived redundant and boring. The Chopin music helps but it's not
enough to save a poorly written and directed movie.
About an hour into the movie the Molina character at a party tells what has happened to that point. It is only useful if you came in an hour late or were stuck in a popcorn line during the movie. The over long blackout after the walk into the subway to signify a death was almost humorous. Thankfully we were spared the funeral scene. There is a tacked on ending where a nephew and his girlfriend ride way too long off into the sunset. It's the wrong ending for this movie as it is not their story.
There's a mention of a Busby Berkeley movie, any of which would be a better choice over this. Here's a small movie that doesn't need to be seen in a theater. Watch it at home on the sofa and expect to fall asleep.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Love is indeed strange, elusive and even painful at times. New York filmmaker Ira Sachs often explores queer politics and gay themes, but this poignant, bittersweet and touching comic drama is arguable his most accessible film yet. And it is certainly a nice change of pace from his more confronting and semi-autobiographical Keep The Lights On. Love Is Strange benefits enormously from a pair of winning, sympathetic performances from John Lithgow (3rd Rock From The Sun, etc) and Alfred Molina (Maverick, etc) as Ben and George, a gay couple who have lived together for nearly four decades. But when they get married their circumstances change drastically. George loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school, and the pair are forced to leave the apartment that has been their home for the past two decades. While they look for a new apartment, the pair are forced to temporarily live apart. Ben moves in with the family of his nephew Elliott (Darren Burrows), and shares a bunk bed with their teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan from Charlie St Cloud, etc), who resents the loss of his privacy. George sleeps on the couch of their neighbours, a couple of NY cops whose hard partying is at odds with his quiet lifestyle. The two find it hard to adjust, and living apart puts further strain on their relationship. Sachs looks at themes of family, relationships, gay marriage, and explores how Ben and George cope with their late life crisis and changed circumstances. Marisa Tomei is good as Elliott's wife, a writer who finds Ben's presence too much of a distraction from her own work. However, there are a number of subplots woven throughout the narrative that are not entirely satisfactorily resolved, the complex relationship between Joey and fellow student Vlad (Eric Tabach in his film debut). Sach's direction is sensitive and subtle, but it is the strong performances of Lithgow and Molina that give the film its sense of heart.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Love is Strange wouldn't usually be the kind of movie that I would go
and see, to be honest with you. I'd like to think I have my romantic
moments but too much schmaltz isn't for me. However, liking Alfred
Molina and being persuaded by a Kermode review, I decided to chance it.
Hmm, sometimes one needs to go with your first instincts I discovered.
The initial set-up felt slightly rushed, with little chance to do anything than discover our heroes have been married, as a result of that marriage they are now in financial straits due to prejudice and then they take the slightly odd decision to sell up and move out (temporarily). OK so, it's the movies, let that slide and let's get into the meat of the film I think to myself. And initially, I'm starting to be persuaded that I'm glad that I've done so. Molina and Lithgow give sterling performances as the leads and they do start to create some moments of genuine emotion.
However, the set-up problems then return and the supporting casts, for me, never really get their teeth into things. It ebbs to the point whereby you're almost crying for something to happen that isn't either immediately apparent or obviously predictable. We fall into arty shots of NY skylines and streets and redbricks and yadda yadda, I didn't really feel much of an emotional connection with the characters as I never felt they were allowed to grow, and I wasn't really sure where we were headed.
The last half an hour was quite frankly meandering, with plot devices going off all over the shop and managing to pull off a main character departure without troubling my tissues. Which felt strange. Sorry, but this really didn't do it for me, and given the tenderness between George and Ben when the former has walked through the rain to hug his husband also feels slightly unforgiving. I wanted to enjoy this but it just didn't hit the mark for me I'm afraid.
"Love is Strange" seems intended as a slice-of-life, but it's more
frustrating than intriguing, inspiring or uplifting.
While there's nothing to complain of about the mise en scène or the acting, it doesn't add up to anything. Most of the main events happen offstage, so it neither shows nor tells, just implies.
Many loose ends are never tied up. What happens to Vlad? What happens to Elliot and Kate's marriage? The pace is slow enough that the alternative movies running in your head are more interesting that what's on screen. There's sexual tension between George and Ian: what if they had a fling? How would Ben react? What if Joey WAS gay? What if Ben tried to help him come to terms with that but was misunderstood, with catastrophic consequences? What if Vlad was and Joey was just going along with him? Or if they really were doing drugs - and Ben found evidence?
What happens about the letter George is composing or rehearsing while Dovie Currin is playing the "Raindrops" prelude (and much better than he gives her credit for)? Does he send it to the parents of his former pupils? Do they petition the school, or demonstrate? We never know.
But my biggest disappointment was that the film completely belied its title: None of the love in the film is strange in any way. Love often IS strange, and some very good movies have illustrated that.
I'd call this a broken movie. I suggest you watch until they say goodbye outside the Waverley Diner and Ben goes down to the subway. What follows adds nothing.
New Yorkers Ben and George have been together nearly 40 years, when
they marry during a joyous gathering of friends and relatives.
Unfortunately, George works for a Catholic school, and he is quickly
dismissed when news of his recent nuptials reaches the Church
hierarchy. The aging couple can no longer afford their condo and,
forced to sell, face difficulties finding a reasonable apartment. Thus,
Ben and George separate temporarily to live with relatives, and the
expected problems ensue.
"Love is Strange" has many things going for it, primarily in the performances of John Lithgow as Ben, Alfred Molina as George, and Marisa Tomei as Kate, the wife of Ben's nephew. Lithgow and Molina capture the familiarity and tenderness of a long-married couple, while the always-engaging Tomei is excellent as a writer, whose work is constantly interrupted by Uncle Ben's well-meaning, but intrusive conversation. Unfortunately, the shaggy-dog script by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias does not serve the talented cast well. The screenplay shuffles some significant events off screen and leaves enough threads dangling to weave a carpet. Random coincidence resolves one plot point, while others are just left unanswered. Sachs also directs, and his long takes seem self-consciously arty. The film appears to be ending several times before it actually does.
While the credits roll, question after question will rise in viewers' minds. After nearly 40 years together, why did George and Ben have no savings? George signed an agreement when he was hired and knew the consequences, why did he not keep his marriage quiet? Why was George so clueless about the costs of selling the condo? What was the big deal about moving to Poughkeepsie temporarily? Why was the friend, Honey, dismissed from a conversation with a sharp "you're not family?" Why did the relatives discuss the couple's living situation behind their backs and not openly with them? Perhaps an intended longer version was chopped down, although, at 94 minutes, "Love is Strange" is relatively short. Whatever the reason, the film is a botched opportunity that squanders some talented performers and an intriguing premise.
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