“Love is Strange” is a lovely, quiet movie about long-term relationships. What makes it especially timely and important is that, in this case, the relationship is between two men – a fact that, thanks to understated directing and stunning performances, seems so beautifully irrelevant yet has the power to subtly changes audiences’ perceptions as to the way we see “family.”
Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been together for almost four decades and are getting married because, well, they finally can. From the first scenes, in which they prepare for their wedding day and try to find a cab to the ceremony – “I don’t want to get all sweaty,” says Ben when George suggests they walk. – we get to know these characters, immediately feeling their deep connection to each other.
Their friends and family are so happy for the couple, and, even on the other side of the screen, you can feel the love as they celebrate this long-in-coming union.
Unfortunately, George’s employer – a Catholic private school, where he has taught music for years – is not quite as enamored by this now-public turn of events. George loses his job, forcing the couple to sell their apartment and temporarily rely on the kindness of the people who love them. Because this is Manhattan, no one has room to put up both of them so George ends up on his friends’ living room couch while Ben shares a bunk bed his nephew’s teenage son.
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The arrangement is far from ideal and tests the couple’s commitment to love each other “for richer or for poorer.” It also tests their relationships with the people who have generously taken them in. As Ben discovers, “Sometimes when you live with people, you know them better than you care to.”
One of those people is Kate (Marisa Tomei), Ben’s niece by marriage and a writer whose work days are completed thrown off by Ben, who seems to be constantly under foot. He doesn’t want this any more than she does, and although everyone tries to remain civil, the tension is palpable, and George and Ben yearn for their own space.
Having just celebrated my own 33rd anniversary, I could recognize the long messages being telecommunicated in one glance, the ache and longing transmitted over a phone call, the relief of being back together demonstrated in a hug. The intimacy between George and Ben is apparent in every gesture.
Lithgow and Molina are so natural, you would swear they had really been together for almost 40 years. Their effortless performances are Oscar-worthy, and they will break your heart every time they look at each other.
On a larger scale, the movie raises important questions about aging and what happens to those who can no longer afford to stay in their homes. What do we do when people become an inconvenience? As boomers, we need to be invested in finding the answer.
Although it’s obvious that all George and Ben have ever wanted was to be together, their separation drags on, becoming more and more intolerable to everyone. As it turns out, it seems that the strangest – and saddest – thing about love is that, contrary to what we’ve been told, it can’t conquer all.
Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. She is the reigning champion of Blogger Idol and was recently named Humor Writer of the Month by Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. Lois won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013, and writes regularly on pop culture and travel. Because of her blog, Oprah Winfrey selected her as an Ultimate Viewer and took her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime. A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, she was the Flicks for Kids editor at NickJr.com and a contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade. Transplanted New Yorkers, Lois and her husband of 32 years now live in San Diego, where they have turned into weather wimps and complain about the pizza. Their grown kids are, of course, both on the East Coast. You can follow Lois on Facebook or Twitter.