By Simon Miraudo
June 7, 2014
Love is Strange but the housing situation in New York is stranger. “Like something out of Kafka” is how Alfred Molina‘s character, George, describes it. Suddenly made homeless, music teacher George and his partner of 39 years, painter Ben (John Lithgow), have the unenviable task of begging their extended family for somewhere to sleep. Their recent marriage cost George his gig at a Catholic school, and Ben’s pension alone can’t pay for their Manhattan apartment. They put it on the market, walk away with a tiny profit, and move in, separately, with relatives and friends. No one will take them together. Or rather, no one can take them together. It’s New York. If the newly unemployed George and 71-year-old Ben had started to feel like a burden in their old age, they should take solace in the fact NYC pretty much makes everyone feel that way.
Ira Sachs‘ drama is a gentle portrait of married life and how lonely it can be, in big houses and big cities alike, and not always due to logistical circumstance. For George and Ben, being apart is torture. For Kate (Marisa Tomei), being surrounded is worse. The wife of Ben’s often-absent, filmmaker nephew (Darren E. Burrows), she’s nonetheless stranded at home with her husband’s chatty uncle, a disengaged son (Charlie Tahan), and an interloping troublemaker named Vlad (Eric Tabach) with a questionable affiliation to her own child. I’m hesitant to sympathise with the wealthy, stay-at-home author, and yet Tomei’s so good so often it takes no time for us to believe she’s strangulated in her spacious loft.
Lithgow and Molina’s lived-in performances make Love is Strange float, even when Sachs’ and Mauricio Zacharias’ script just kind of hangs there. They subtly hint at the persecution of their past in the way they hesitate to mention the nature of their relationship to strangers, or by walking side by side without holding hands, because only doing so now would just feel unnatural. We wait for temptation to cross their paths or emotional obstacles to undo the newlyweds, but imposing a traditional plot is not something Sachs is all that interested in. Not much to the movie at all, you’d be forgiven for walking away thinking mostly about the complicated rental agreements and co-op contracts of New York City. Still, that would be a shame. A lack of drama is not a lack of purpose. George and Ben, Molina and Lithgow; between them, Love is Strange will give you something to write home about.
Love is Strange plays the Sydney Film Festival June 10 and 12.