Many Quiet Questions

Love is Strange

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            In a rare happening, Love Is Strange invites us to think. At just an hour and a half, it is a short movie presented so carefully and with such deliberation that it seems longer, probably because we have been encouraged to wander around in our own minds. There are no big plot twists here, just the ramifications of an incident that spreads through a family affecting each person in a different way.
            After 39 years together, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are married under the new New York law in a ceremony witnessed and celebrated by family members. Because their marriage violates the dictum of the Catholic Church against sex before marriage, George is fired from his job as music director at the local church. At least we are spared the hypocrisy of his being fired for being gay.
            Without Georgeís income, the two men lose their apartment and are forced to separate, each to find his own way to food and shelter with little money. Ben bunks in with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and Darrenís wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) whose son is Joey (Charlie Tahan), a sullen teenager who loses the privacy of his room to his great uncle at just the time he himself is navigating the painful and lonely transition of adolescence. Life begins to unravel slowly for everyone.
            Just as we begin to think we have no sense of where this story is going, it dawns on us that everyone is in some kind of a tough transition that is threatening the layer of civilized behavior that covers us all so thinly. Until Georgeís firing, the familyís fears and frustrations were held inside.
            Since writer/director Ira Sachs has given us no distractions to fasten on, we are left to sink into the field of emotions he has set in motion. Itís a difficult structure navigated beautifully by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina in understated but deeply felt performances that turn the movie into a meditation on universal themes rather than a movie plot.
            Watch the wordless reunion when George can stay away no longer. Watch the silent Joey when his contained sadness erupts in sobbing on a stairway landing. Watch the patient Kate become raw when she loses her writing time to the sadness unfolding in her now openly troubled family.
            Because it is directed in such an understated way by Ira Sachs and acted by a cast that responds to that mood, the movie becomes a trigger for universal thoughts rather than plot specific ones. It seems probable that everyone in the audience will be in a different place as the film winds down. My own thought went to the sad inevitability that in every happy long term marriage or partnership, one or the other will end up alone and living with loss. It is the beautiful quiet work of John Lithgow and Alfred Molina that allows us to wander in our own landscapes.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Love is Strange
Word count : 498
Studio : Sony Pictures Classics
Running time : 1:34
Rating : R


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