Film review: Love Is Strange - on the minutiae of a gay relationship
This wonderfully warm, wise - and restrained - take on a topical issue by director Andrew Sachs is helped by its stars - two of the best character actors of their generation, John Lithgow and Alfred Molina
If there was a time when gay-themed films were mostly about the angst of coming out or facing homophobia, Ira Sachs' excellent drama Love is Strange might be the tipping point towards a more enlightened direction.
Continuing the recent — and very welcome — trend in crafting stories for more mature audiences, this tells of Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), a long-term same-sex couple living in Manhattan. They've been together for years. Their families all know they're gay. And their sexuality is largely a non-issue.
True, the film begins after George loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school, when word reaches the archdiocese that he and the retired artist Ben have wed after 39 years together. But while this is a brief dig at Catholicism's attitude to gay marriage, it's largely used as a springboard by Sachs and fellow screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias.
As the title suggests, Love is Strange is really about the minutiae of relationships — right down to the complex financial arrangements that underpin any coupling. With George out of work, the pair can no longer afford to keep their New York apartment. Others want to help, but no arrangement quite works.
In the end, with these two gentlemen still together, Ben moves in with his nephew (Darren Burrows), his novelist wife (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son in Brooklyn, while George accepts a spot on the couch of his former neighbours, two gay cops, Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Pérez ).
Issues of loneliness, confusion and other mini-dramas reverberate throughout, with both men left to adjust to their situation. Sachs, whose previous films include the excellent Forty Shades of Blue and The Delta, stands back, observing his characters acutely, never veering towards the melodramatic. Deliberately holding off on presenting neat resolutions, the restraint here is admirable — and all too rare in American indie cinema these days.
It helps that in Lithgow and Molina, Sachs has secured two of the best character actors of their generation. Both have played gay before — Molina in Prick Up Your Ears and Lithgow in My Brother's Keeper, among others. But rarely have directors put them front and centre. Sachs understands their consummate skills as actors; putting them together, the result is wonderfully warm and wise.
Love is Strange, July 18, 7.50pm, Broadway Cinematheque, Yau Ma Tei and opens on July 23