Screened Out – Love is Strange

By : Stephen Miller
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John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Cheyenne Jackson

The late, great Roger Ebert once said, “The more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual characters, the more it applies to everyone.” He was talking of Brokeback Mountain. I once said he could’ve written this for The Kids are All Right. Now there’s another film that deserves such accolades: Love is Strange, a small, quiet romance with such an honest script and beautiful, intricate performances that it feels like a warm hug.

All of the titles I mentioned are considered “gay films,” and they are certainly informed by the struggles of the LGBT community. But more than that, they are also so specific to character and to tone that they become all-embracing. Anyone can relate to their struggles, because we connect them as individuals.

Molina and Lithgow are an old NYC gay couple, together for nearly four decades. When they decide to get officially married, the Catholic school Molina works for fires him. The school knew about them, but the “public act” of getting a marriage license – and putting pictures up on Facebook – cannot be allowed.

This film could’ve easily become a heavy-handed protest about how religious institutions (or businesses with strong beliefs, Hobby Lobby) are completely exempt from state and federal laws everyone should follow. But the filmmakers are smarter than to make a soapbox piece.

Director and co-writer Ira Sachs is consistently showing a deft hand at indie romances about LGBT lives.

Director and co-writer Ira Sachs is consistently showing a deft hand at indie romances about LGBT lives.

Because Lithgow and Molina can no longer afford their apartment, they must split up and temporarily live away from each other. It’s a cruel fate that their marriage is what forces them apart.

Lithgow stays with his nephew’s family (including the radiant Tomei). Molina moves downstairs with some gay cops (one of whom is the yummy Jackson) who love to party.

The problem is that Molina are Lithgow are used to each other – four decades ingrained in their habits. They are elder gays, homebodies. Lithgow is a bit wily and doddering; his characteristics Molina always manages. Molina is not by any stretch of the imagination a social butterfly, having left that area for Lithgow to navigate for the both of them.

I kept watching their story unfold, thinking, “Yes, that’s the way it is.” It’s marvelous how true and honest it all feels.

tomei

Marisa Tomei shows again that she is subtly astounding.

Director/co-writer Ira Sachs just keeps getting better and better with each project. He’s had a couple fumbles with straight flicks (Married Life, Forty Shades of Blue). He seems to always find his stride with indie romances about LGBT people (this, The Delta, and Keep the Lights On). He has an ability to use gays lives to show to hopes and fears, the triumphs and struggles, and especially the compromises in all relationships.

He couldn’t have asked for better performers. Lithgow is stirring as the 71-year-old painter just coming to grips with his lack of fame. He shows the subtle signs of early dementia. Molina is quietly indignant, the charming music teacher who secretly loves to maintain control. Tomei keeps reminding us how underrated she is. All of the performances are simply pitch-perfect.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

There are only two tiny problems. One could wish that the photography weren’t so indulgent – focusing on sunsets and empty streets instead of filling in more of the couple’s delightful story. Also, unfortunately, the score is reductive Chopin, nothing as unique as the lives it accompanies.

However, the acting and the knowing script illuminate something deeply true about all relationships; people who love, families, and friends. Love may be strange, but it is also quietly wondrous, a resplendent and singularly sweet miracle worth celebrating.

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