Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Today’s a big day for Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina). After spending the past 39 years together, they’re finally getting married. It’s a joyous occasion, accompanied by friends and family, who’ve watched the couple stick it out through thick and thin for nearly four decades. The honeymoon, the real and metaphorical one, is now over and an unexpected snag begins to take hold.
George, a respected teacher and member of the Catholic school he works for, has been fired because of his marriage. With his meager salary and Ben’s pension, they can’t quite make the bills anymore. They now can’t afford their apartment and need to seek a new residence. Because of George’s work, they’ll have to split for the time being. Ben goes to live with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows) and his wife Kate (Tomei). George has to move in with a pair of gay policemen who party on the weekends and play Dungeons and Dragons on the weeknights; Far from ideal for both men.
While their current predicament may not seem like the worst thing in the world, their calls and conversation hint at much tougher hurdles in the past that have been overcome. “Love is Strange” teaches that love can become stronger through adversity, but it’s not their love that’s in for a bumpy ride. The real struggle lies within Elliot, Kate and their son Joey (Tahan). They’re a decaying family. Elliot is constantly busy, but one may suspect he’s having an affair. Kate is usually at home attempting to write her latest book, but finding that most of her daily stresses are hampering that. Then there’s Joey, a real enigma. He can tell his parents aren’t on the best of terms and it doesn’t help he’s not on the best of terms with both of them.
There’s so much conflict told visually that many of the problems are never solved or fully developed verbally. It leaves the audience wondering what, if anything, is actually happening. While that’s off putting to some, that’s perfectly fine with me. Speculation is the most fun one can have during a movie and after leaving the theater. Joey seems to resent Ben at first, but…that’s the biggest mystery in the movie. While Kate may believe Ben is the reason things are imploding, the family dynamic appears to have been festering for years. Elliot seems to believe nothing is wrong at all or is too busy to care.
The most telling moment is when Joey has trouble answering a question from Ben. “Have you ever been in love?” Joey immediately takes offense wondering if Ben is implying he’s gay. That can easily be chalked up to a typical teenage homophobic concern that’s rooted in one’s own sexual confusion. But instead it tells me that he hasn’t grown up in the most loving of households. That watching his mom and dad slowly drift apart is taking a personal toll on him and he’s slowly losing grip on everything else.
The ending comes after a traumatic event that has clearly impacted Joey. Tahan is given the arduous task of portraying the only real tearful, emotional moment of all the characters and he’s spot on. It’s not an ensemble cast, but it’s definitely one that has the swagger. Lithgow leads the way perfecting every little word he speaks and every little facial movement. He lives and breathes inside Ben and has never done a more believable job in a role. If he doesn’t get a nomination at this year’s Oscars for his performance, it would be a damn shame.
“Love is Strange” is short and thoughtful. Outside of being a touching film, it’s shot in a very beautiful way. Most times people love to focus on the cold concrete structures of New York, but director Ira Sachs finds the grandeur of nature breaking through the cracks. It’s a bittersweet symphony that displays a different message to different people. It may tell you that life, in essence, is short and that we need to cherish it. Or maybe it’ll tell you that even in the most desolate of circumstances, you can come out in the end a happier person.