Love is Strange

September 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei
Directed by: Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”)
Written by: Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”) and Mauricio Zacharias (“Keep the Lights On”)

It’s difficult not to find “Love is Strange” likeable despite its many flaws. Anchored by moving and understated performances by Oscar nominee John Lithgow (“Terms of Endearment”) and Alfred Molina (“Frida”), it’s the kind of film that demands respect, especially since it’s filling a void in LGBT cinema where stories tend to be more about a younger generation and their struggles to find or confront their sexual identity. When is the last time you saw a love story between two men around the age of 65-70? Unless we’re talking about smaller documentaries like “Before You Know It,” “Gen Silent,” or “88 Years in the Closet,” it’s extremely rare. Even when actor Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing a gay octogenarian in the 2010 comedy/drama “Beginners,” the lover he chose was much younger. With that said, “Love is Strange” breaks some important barriers, but not without writing itself into some messy scenarios that feel way more complicated than they had to be.

The film opens with Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina), two older gentlemen dressed to the nines, walking through the streets of Manhattan as if they were going to a nearby café to have a cup of coffee like it was any other morning. This is far from any other morning, however. This is Ben and George’s wedding day. After a nearly 40-year relationship, the couple has decided to make it official. Their joy is short-lived, however, when George, a music teacher at an Archdiocese-run school, is fired from his position since his marriage violates the Christian Witness Statement he signed when he was hired. Now on an extremely fixed income, Ben and George are forced to sell their apartment and temporarily sleep under different roofs until they can find a new home (none of their family or friends who live in the city can accommodate both men, a plot point that is hard to swallow, but important to the overall narrative). With Ben staying with his nephew and his family (Marisa Tomei plays the overly annoyed wife) and George staying with younger gay friends, the two men must do something they’ve never had to do during their entire relationship: live apart.

“Love is Strange” is best when Lithgow and Molina share the screen. Of course, this only takes place a handful of times during the film since their situation keeps them separated. When the two talk about their lives and the sometimes painful past, it’s a beautiful way to show just how comfortable and sensible 40 years of companionship has molded their relationship. Ben and George have known for a long time that they work better as a couple. Director/co-writer Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”) makes sure audiences can feel that security and compassion when they interact.

Where “Love is Strange” struggles is in the secondary family story it tries so desperately to fit into Ben and George’s difficult circumstance. It’s especially true with Lithgow who somehow ends up becoming a burden on his nephew’s wife and their teenage son. The fact that everyone gets so aggravated so quickly rings immensely false. It’s almost as if Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias felt they had to impose some sort of conflict to make the film find another emotional layer it could’ve easily done without (or done without the exaggeration).

Lithgow and Molina’s chemistry, however, is all the emotion “Love is Strange” needs. The deeper Sachs and Zacharias could’ve delved into that touching story and focused more on the quieter moments, the more the film would’ve felt true to form.

Married Life

March 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson
Directed by: Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”)
Written by: Ira Sachs (“Forty Shades of Blue”), Oren Movermen (“I’m Not There”)

“Married Life” is either an adult comedy with dark themes or a dark comedy with adult themes, although neither genre in this specific instance is particularly enjoyable even on a twisted level of simplicity.

Although you would be hard-pressed to find two actors more natural than Chris Cooper (“Adaptation”) and Patricia Clarkson (“Pieces of April”), the problems lie in the not-so-fascinating screenplay of Ira Sachs and Oren Movermen.

Set in the 1940’s and given a sort-of film noir ambiance, “Married Life” follows Harry Allen (Cooper), a hopelessly romantic businessman who wants to kill his wife. It is, of course, not his wife Pat (Clarkson) who he is in love with any longer. Harry has moved on and found a younger woman with whom “to be truly happy.”

Her name is Kay Nesbit (Rachel McAdams), and Harry is wild about everything she brings out of him. As a lonely widow, Kay has found a stable relationship that she can count on. As a married man, Harry wants nothing more than to leave his wife and start a new life with his mistress.

But in the 40’s, divorce wasn’t just something people do on a daily basis. There was embarrassment involved from a social aspect because people viewed it as a failure in life. So, instead of divorcing Pat, Harry decides that he will have to kill her to save her from the whispers she might hear after their split. How thoughtful!

All the while, no one has as much power and influence over Harry and Pat’s marriage as Harry’s best friend Richard Langley (Pierce Brosnan). Like a fly on the wall, Richard knows everything that is going on between all parties involved and always has the upper hand to get anything he wants, even when that includes Harry’s new gal. Brosnan, who is also the film’s narrator, is excellent in this role. He keeps up with Cooper’s cunningness both as friends and competitors for Kay’s love.

Although the acting is top-notch in this intelligent albeit soft-around-the-edges drama, one can’t ignore the tediousness that lingers between the characters’ separate stories. These minimal moments muddle the tension and also Harry’s point-of-view, which is the most ruthless and indifferent you could imagine. Some of the best parts of the film are when Harry, only moments away from poisoning Pat, can still give her compliments and make her feel like she is the only thing that matters to him. (“You’re prettier today than you’ve ever been,” he says without a smirk).

Still, Cooper and the rest of the acting talent can’t hold the film together on their own. With a story of deception, extramarital affairs, and murder, you would think the “Married Life” script has a lot going for it. But halfway through, you’ll feel just like Harry and want out in any way possible. Well, almost any way.