LOVE IS STRANGE, a film, unaffectedly directed by Ira Sachs, is so natural and unassuming in its portrayal of relationships that the divide between audience and the characters on the screen disappears; we are directly slipping into their lives with the ease of familiarity. There is a formal beauty to the movie, thanks to the cinematography of Christos Voudouris - the way he captures each space - delineated not only through décor, but through the light which mutates with the atmosphere, very much like a Chardin still-life painting, classic in its grandeur and silence.
The plot revolves around two gay men who have lived together for 39 years and finally get married, a decision that will alter their lives in ways that are unexpected and transforming. We first meet Ben, a seventy-one year old artist, (John Lithgow in a breathtaking performance) and his partner George (Alfred Molina in an equally fine portrayal,) a music teacher in a Catholic school - both excitedly, and nervously preparing for the ceremony and the post-wedding party. From the moment we first view Lithgow and Molina singing a duet together - their voices and theatrics in synch and at odds - tender intimacy is apparent. Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have created two remarkably gentle and loving individuals, their intimacy and enduring connection, is both understated and powerfully passionate.
The consequences of ultimately legitimizing their union bear witness to the harsh realities that accompany that choice. Soon after the nuptials, George gets fired from his job, and the economic demands of existing in NYC, forced to sell the apartment in order to find more affordable housing, interrupts their former cadence of living. Having no alternative, George and Ben, temporarily separate to move in with friends and relatives till they can find a home of their own. Molina and Lithgow stunningly convey the anguish of living apart and the intense longing of being united again. It is as if one person is sliced in half – going through the motions, but not fully functioning without the other.
LOVE IS STRANGE also references the mysterious corridor of generational diversity - both fractious and enriching. The anxious, rebellious teenager slowly embracing life’s uncertainties embodied by Joey, Ben’s great-nephew in an excellent performance by Charlie Tahan who is likable, secretive and obnoxious – an eternal artifact of an adolescent’s growing awareness of life’s promises and aching discomforts. And approaching mid-life, are his parents - Kate (Marisa Tomei - a natural wonder) - a writer trying to meet the demands of motherhood and still do her own work and Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) a father too wrapped up in doing business (supporting the family?) to notice the splintering family dynamic. Tomei’s facial expressions convey a woman’s inner tug-of-war between being a caregiver and accomplishing her own ambitions, shifting from haggardly frustrated to a luminous empathy, particularly for the growing pains of her son on the cusp of adulthood.
Director Ira Sachs has given us a tone poem to the beauty, delight and fragility of living in a city - New York - dynamic, diverse and constantly changing, echoing the vicissitudes of life as we stumble through our own personal unfolding. A love story that has depth and endurance - delicate and supple, both romantic and mundane, LOVE IS STRANGE is wrenchingly lovely and generous, but also a reminder that nothing is permanent.
Postcript: This film will be in theaters in the summer of 2014. I saw a preview at The Tribeca Film Festival.