Directed by: Ira Sachs
Written by: Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharia
I am part of a relatively small close-knit group of “liberal minded” homeschooling families. Many of our teens are openly gay, transgendered, or questioning.
Seriously, there’s a lot of questioning going on in this gang. I’m thankful they feel safe enough to talk about it openly with their parents and peers.
There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to adolescence. But when I was young the only non-heterosexual characters I saw in T.V. and film had their “aberrations” pimped out for comedic effect and, to the best of my knowledge, there was only one openly gay kid among the 1000 students in my high school–and he was relentlessly ridiculed. So that questioning was delayed until college, it was messy, and there was a lot of angst and alcohol involved.
The times they are a changin’ — thank God. But occasionally something happens that reminds me how much of a buffer our small kinder, gentler world has become. I sometimes almost forget that, all around us, people who don’t fit the heteronormative mold still fight an uphill battle.
The uneven progress we’ve made, as a society, in overcoming this prejudice is one of the myriad themes gently handled in Love is Strange. Marriage equality has finally come to New York, and Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) formalize their 39-year union. This causes complications for George, a music teacher and Christian working at a Catholic school. After tacitly accepting George’s sexual orientation for many years, the church finds itself in an awkward position, and George is fired.
Struggling to survive on what George earns teaching piano lessons and Ben’s pension, they have to sell their apartment at a marginal profit. While George stays with friends, in a lively, chaotic apartment, Ben moves in with his nephew’s family. He spends a lot of time in close quarters with his nephew’s wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) a freelance writer, and shares bunk beds with her adolescent son.
The strain this creates on everyone is palpable without being over-dramatized. It is beautifully real and utterly believable. It is painful to see Ben diminished by becoming an unwanted boarder and having his work as an artist marginalized. However it is clear he is part of the problem. I loved Kate’s teeth-clenching irritation at Ben’s friendly but unending chatter. I work from home too, so I wholly felt her pain. 🙂 This is a film that doesn’t take sides. It simply allows the story to unfold, in the way many of my favorite movies do, through scenes so real I felt like a voyeur.
The performances are all outstanding. Aside from Molina, Lithgow, and Tomei, the actor who stood out most for me was Charlie Tahan as Kate’s smart, sullen teenage son. (I can’t help but love a kid whose crowning act of delinquency is stealing French novels. :-)) His performance captures the amorphous anger, frustration, and longing of adolescence, and his growth, near the end of the film, is moving.
This is an excellent choice for fans of realistic character-driven films. It’s a nuanced study of love, aging, the difficulties of cohabitating with others, and how people maintain their dignity in challenging circumstances.