Starring: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei
After 39 years together Manhattan couple Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina) get married. However this leads to George losing his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school and so the two of them are forced to leave their apartment and live separately with relatives. Not only does their separation put a strain on their relationship, but their new dependency on their respective relatives reveals the true character of their relatives on their relationships with one another.
Mainstream cinema often has a slightly exaggerated depiction of love to make for a dramatic story; well full credit should go to Ira Sachs for avoiding such narrative clichés that would perhaps appeal to a more mainstream audience. In Love is Strange we do not get the usual clichéd and lazy narrative developments of a typical ‘love’ story and Sachs focuses on a story that perhaps some may feel is mundane and lacking in actual drama, but for others the lack of forced drama will mean that the film can focus on an emotionally engaging relationship between two deeply sympathetic protagonists whose sole focus is their love and dedication to one another.
Love in its purist form is the subject of the narrative in Love is Strange, and though the fact it is love between two men that drives the narrative initially with George losing his job because of the fact he is married to another man, apart from that this is simply a tale about two individuals who love each other dearly and are dedicated to one another. Such a raw and honest depiction is surprisingly rare in films these days as of course there is the pressure to throw in forced dramatic narrative developments to appeal to more mainstream audiences, and though George and Ben will of course have had their ups and downs, they are as devoted to each other in the stage in their relationship that the film shows as they ever have been. The main element of the narrative and its emotional core is the love and dedication they show for each other despite the obstacle of being forced to live apart with their respective families, and this provides engaging and genuinely emotionally touching viewing.
Many have criticised how the film seems to focus on the issues of the members of their respective external families that George and Ben live with and then forget about them; well I would disagree with this as though these characters are of course important, the main focus of the narrative is their involvement in George and Ben’s lives, but fundamentally the relationship between George and Ben. The naturalistic and raw approach to the script means that the narrative contains many poignant and resonant moments, and every character is relatable and sympathetic. These characters go through the struggles of everyday people that may perhaps seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, but to these characters at this time they are a big deal, and Sachs skilfully involves us in their lives and we genuinely share their concern.
Interaction is a key theme of the narrative and though many subplots may not get the closure that they do in mainstream films, that is not the point in Love is Strange. Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias’ script feels very raw and naturalistic in style, but yet still contains many deeply pertinent and observant lines that resonate in the memory long after the film has finished as they certainly apply to our own personal experiences, even if we have not experienced the same situation as the narrative’s characters. Sometimes we only truly know people when having to share a roof with them or when we are in a position of need, and this is examined with poignant intelligence by the film.
At the centre of the narrative are two superb performances; John Lithgow and Alfred Molina give two note perfect performances and when on screen together encapsulate perfectly two people that have mutual love and dedication to one another. The supporting cast are also excellent in their various roles which are crucial to the themes the narrative explores.
There are admittedly moments in the film that do not work, such as attempts to be topical about the current economic situation and there are a few contrivances in the narrative, but otherwise Love is Strange adopts a refreshingly raw and honest approach to its depiction of not only the love a couple share for each other, but the relationships that exist between extended family members, and for that makes for deeply engaging and moving viewing.
A refreshingly honest and raw depiction of relationships; Love is Strange is a poignant, engaging and moving drama, and a very much welcome antidote to mainstream depictions of such frequently used themes.