'Love Is Strange' Review: A Smart, Elegant Story Of Love
Love Is Strange, the newest feature from Keep the Lights On director Ira Sachs, is a beautiful ode to love – and you should really see it.
The film centers on longtime partners Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who begin the film with their long-awaited – and now legal – marriage ceremony. Surrounded by friends and family, most notably Ben’s nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and his family and their friendly neighbors, fellow couple Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez). The conflict in Love Is Strange comes from a tragic truth that plagues gay couples: acceptable discrimination. After their marriage, George is fired from his position as the choir director at a Catholic school. Without George’s steady income, the couple can no longer afford their posh New York City apartment and are forced to begin their marriage living apart. Ben goes to live with Elliot, his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan) in Brooklyn, while George sleeps on Ted and Roberto’s couch.
While the film exists, in part, because of the nature of discrimination in modern society, it doesn’t set out to be a commentary on socio-political ethics. There is no preaching, no lesson forced down the throats of the audience. It’s a mesmerizing slow burn that explores the nature of love and the nature of art – Ben is a painter and George a musician. The realistic feel of the film is really due to the performers, especially Lithgow and Molina, who, despite their celebrity status, are more than convincing as a couple that has been together for more than three decades.
Stylistically, the film is very classic and clean. There is no handheld, shaky camera, no jump cuts or sudden shifts in focus – each frame is beautifully composed – and the music never overpowers the players. Furthermore, Love Is Strange exercises excellent use of music throughout the film. Instead of being punctuated by popular songs or a specially curated indie soundtrack, the music in Love Is Strange is almost entirely made up of classical piano pieces composed by Chopin. The decision to stick to a solo piano instead of an orchestra also adds to the realism of the film due to George’s job as a piano teacher. The music does not feel foreign to the story, added by an ominous third party, but natural, as if it could be created from the characters populating the film.
Love Is Strange is very true to its title, and examines love between lovers, family and friends. Though it is the relationship between Ben and George is at the core of the film, one of the most compelling on-screen relationships in the film is the one that develops between Ben and his nephew’s son, Joey, a young teenager. The odd couple are hilariously forced to share, not only a room, but also a bunk bed. Tahan gives a wonderful performance as Joey, holding his own opposite Tomei and Lithgow. Joey is your typical teen: closed off from his parents and resentful of any and all things happening under his parents’ roof. The drama in Love Is Strange is surprisingly unassuming, which makes Joey’s character a risk. There is a very fine line between realistic teen angst and an overdramatic tantrum. Occasionally, Joey risks dipping his toe into the overdramatic pool, but Tahan manages to reel it in nicely.
What makes Love Is Strange a feat in storytelling, script wise, is that none of the plot points feel forced. Any film lover will recognize a few moments in the film as the point where fortunes are taking a turn, where conflict is either born or reaching a resolution, and yet it never feels as if writers Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias are forcing the audience in a certain direction. This restraint and care is exercised in all aspects of Love Is Strange, making it unlike any other film released this year.
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