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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REVIEW: Keep the Lights On

5 09 2012

There is nothing about Ira Sachs’ “Keep the Lights On” that Andrew Haigh’s superb “Weekend,” another drama about a same-sex relationships, has not done with far more grace and skill.  Sure, you could say that Sachs’ film spans many years and thus deserves to be judged differently, but the byproducts of both movies are incredibly similar.

The portrayal of homosexuals is far superior in “Weekend,” which defines the two men by their fears, their misgivings, their hopes, and their humanity.  “Keep the Lights On” abandons true characterization in favor of stereotypes and archetypes.  Paul (Zachary Booth), a gay lawyer at first living in denial, at least has some complexity, but he’s still most defined by his drug use and infidelity.  Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a whiny, grating character who seems to be motivated only by his insatiable desire for sex.

Haigh’s film is also far superior at analyzing society and deconstructing what it really means to have a relationship.  Sachs has his couple practically operating in a vacuum.  “Keep the Lights On,” beyond just the story, is also a far inferior film aesthetically.  It plods along at a dismally slow pace and the filmmaking brings very little exciting to the table.

I could extol the authenticity of “Weekend” here, but I’ll refrain since I’ve already written a review of that film.  And while you might say that I’ve hardly reviewed “Keep the Lights On,” I see no reason to dedicate any more of my time and thoughts to a movie that has been done before and has been done better.  No, IFC did not pay me to advertise “Weekend” with this post, but if you feel compelled to seek it out now … it’s on Netflix Instant Streaming, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and just about any streaming service out there as of this posting.  C-