Monday, September 15, 2014

“Love Is Strange” Casts A Cinematic Spell

Love is strange indeed. It can carry us to the highest highs and lowest lows. It can be as firm as a brick wall, and it can make you feel as if the very earth under your feet has given way. Yet we never stop seeking it, never cease embracing it, never stop needing it. One of the most painful aspects of the many-splendored thing is that just because the truly remarkable happens and two people find true love, does not mean an end to the pain it causes. Life can throw a wrench into the works, and many times no one who inhabits it is to blame.

Circumstances such as these arise in “Love Is Strange.” It starts out in the happiest of times, as Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) marry in (where else?) NYC after nearly forty years together. However, George, who teaches at a Catholic school and was always open about his relationship, finds himself fired after officials learn of his marriage. When George has difficulty finding another job, and painter Ben unable to support them himself, the couple realizes they must sell their beloved home and depend on friends to shelter them until things improve.

Unfortunately, Ben and George wind up living separately, with George shacking up on the couch of a few hard partying gay cops, while Ben ends up living with his nephew and his novelist wife (Marisa Tomei) and sharing a room and bunk bed with their typically surly teenage son. When he's not unwittingly disrupting Tomei's writing time, he finds out far more about their family than he wants to.

It's always a beautiful thing when such talented actors get rich material to work with, and there's loads of it here for Lithgow, Molina, and the various supporting characters around them. Even the most unpleasant, minor characters feel real, but never boring. The result is a sweet and tender portrait of the best kind of relationship put under major stress as first financial, then medical issues nearly push both men to the brink. When they weep in each other's arms after a long separation, the pain feels as piercing and as palpable as cinema gets.

If only the rest of the characters around Ben and George were as sympathetic. While each character feels human, not all of them feel worthy of our time or understanding. And by not all of them, I actually just mean Ben's family, whom we spend a great deal of time with after he shacks up with them. They're the ones who come off like spoiled, entitled brats who lash out when things get slightly less than easy.

But as long as we have Ben and George to keep us company, they always rise above the supposedly loving clan that surrounds them.

Grade: B+

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