REVIEW: Love is Strange

13 06 2014

Love is StrangeLos Angeles Film Festival

A film that puts a big conceptual catch-all phrase in its title, such as “love” or “American,” should certainly be prepared to make a grand statement.  Ira Sach’s “Love is Strange” certainly has the ambition, providing three generations of characters whose problems play out on the screen.

From what I saw, though, the strangeness and conflict within the film did not come from love.  It arises, rather, from the complexities of the real estate market and overbearing taxes.  Or, as I like to call them, fates worse than death.

That’s not to dismiss the two lead performances at the center of the film by Alfred Molina and John Lithgow.  Respectively portraying George and Ben, life partners who finally get to legally tie the knot around the same time they qualify for the senior citizens’ discount at the movies, their bond of affection feels tender and sincere.  The kind of deep mutual understanding that couples strive for years to achieve is recreated effortlessly by these two great actors.

“Love is Strange” is at its best when it focuses on the two of them trying to navigate living apart after losing a cherished apartment they shared together for decades.  While they attempt to find a new place, George stays with some boisterous neighbors and Ben shacks up with some extended family navigating tenuous times of their own.  Lithgow is the film’s revelation (if he can be called that at the age of 68), portraying senility without a histrionic hint of burgeoning Alzheimer’s.

To the film’s detriment, Sachs expands his film and tries to encompass more experiences than it can comfortably portray in a 90-minute runtime.  The parenting tussle between Ben’s surrogate son Ted and his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and the vague growing pains of their teenage son Joey feel like distractions from the film’s emotional core, George and Ben.  Had “Love is Strange” stayed a little more intensely fixated on them, the micro-level relationship might have satisfied the title’s promise of illuminating something bigger in the macro-level experience of love.

But Sachs insists on lingering and wandering through the lives of an ensemble, disrupting the intimacy of a two-handed love story.  Even though he is unable to satisfactorily accommodate them all into the narrative, “Love is Strange” still retains the feel of the piano sonatas that score the film.  There’s a gentility about the film, though that placidity seems to come at the cost of a more fulfilling emotional resonance.  B-2stars



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