The beauty of a film like ‘Love is Strange’ is that it says so much without appearing to say a whole lot. I know that that sounds, off the bat, like a criticism of sorts, but it really isn’t. This is a film that rests very easy, never forcing any of the film’s narrative themes, but gently coaxing from them so much depth that we don’t even realize what it is we are taking in, but we are taking it in. While our focal point is centered on the unfair situation that newlyweds Ben and George find themselves in, so many little, subtle things are floating around the surface and popping up for our interpretation and contemplation.
Prejudice, aging, respect, infidelity, economy, grief; all of these things are explored in subtle ways, sometimes in just a passing comment, but are fully represented when considering the context.
‘Love is Strange’ (which by the way is a confused film title, since it says nothing about the film itself), tells the story of same-sex partners Ben and George, and opens on the day of their marriage. They’ve been together for a VERY long time, but are finally able to legalize their bond. Unfortunately, legalizing their love has brought George to an uncomfortable spot with his employer, a Christian School that has strict rules about the image of their teachers (he’s a piano teacher). Despite knowing full well about George’s relationship with Ben, having a wedding placed the school in a position where they felt the need to let him go. Now, this happy couple finds themselves financially strapped, and with the rising cost of housing in New York they are at a loss for where to go. They settle on the decision to live separately, Ben moving in with his nephew and his family, and George sleeping on a friend’s couch. Separation is bad enough, but living with other people poses its own set of hardships.
A story like ‘Love is Strange’ moves briskly, and with no real seeming purpose, but it is in all the little details that the purpose of the film is firmly implanted. In the way that Ben’s family tends to take him for granted, or the way that Ben feels a need to defend his nephew’s son, or the way that George subtly deflects temptation, or the way that Ben and George nonchalantly discuss previous indiscretions; all of this background noise (because, it’s never given center attention) completes a picture of life and love in all of its stages.
And the ensemble is just beautiful, with Lithgow and Molina turning into such rich and honest portraits of these men, and the rest of the cast, most notably Marisa Tomei (one of the greatest character actresses working today, or ever) rounding out a very natural and impressionable ensemble.
Some have balked that the lack of central focus on Ben and George TOGETHER has dampened the impact of the film, especially the finale, but for me it was the way the focus was spread throughout the entire family that this film’s finale found its sharpest impact. The film, by spreading the focus, delivers a real insightful look at the way the elderly are regarded and nearly disregarded in the same breath, and the way that respect can be lost without reason and then slowly developed, almost unbeknownst to us and not until it’s too late. Yes, this is about an unwavering love between two people (and yes, this deals with prejudice and the debilitating economy) but the ending note is the lasting impression made by the development of ‘family’ and what that really means.
I'd give this an A-. It really is a gem of a film, and one that I'm glad has reached such a wide audience, considering the subject matter and ensemble.