For the last few years I’ve really admired how John Lithgow has continued to give brilliant performances despite his Alzheimer’s. After a quick Google search it thankfully turns out Lithgow actually doesn’t suffer from any such disease but perhaps it’s a credit to his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes that fiction had grown to fact, in my mind at least. Neither has the human population been ravaged by simian flu but without any doubt, Lithgow adds another weighty performance to a magnificent career in a film of careful observation and heartfelt, quiet sincerity. Gorgeously written and directed by Ira Sachs, Love is Strange is like bathing in a warm spring on a cool day. It feels like a natural, absorbing relief, contemplative and swimming in ethereal truth.
Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a long term couple finally marrying in New York City. They appear to live a comfortable life, Ben retired and George as a music teacher, before George loses his job at a Catholic School when word gets out of his gay wedding, forcing the couple to sell their apartment and temporarily live with relatives apart from one another, until they sort out their finances and find somewhere affordable.
Love is Strange places dramatic weight in its carefully placed pauses, providing space for reflection. Each character is nuanced and important to the drama, creating the sort of instant, real family dynamic reminiscent of the complicated attachments shown in beloved television dramas such as Parenthood and more recently Transparent.
The devotion of both men is played delicately, the burden they place upon relatives and the effect this has on their relationship is moving. Love is Strange is a fine wine, it takes time to settle and detect all the flavours, each ripe and important. The character of Joey, Ben’s teenage nephew is a great example of this. Things don’t need to be shown or told or over emoted, the nuance of his emerging sexuality is illustrated subtly and with varying interpretations. The film’s conclusion is either a sweet or bittersweet walk into a life of self discovery, it’s beautifully layered, gorgeously shot and so striking.
The performances from the film’s two leads resonate with the weight of experience and quiet devotion. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is its attention to detail, from the way both men look at each other, to the awkward atmospheres in the family homes in which each man takes temporary residence, to the way very small details are broken down such as the fees and taxes which cause the couple to not receive the profit from their flat they expected. That might not sound thrilling but it’s in those details which makes Love is Strange so grounded, so perfectly real and devoid of cliche. There are moments in which the film threatens to sensationalise its drama but it dances away from them expertly, preferring to linger in its own poetry. Tearful in its conclusion, Ira Sachs crafts emotions which are organic, rich and truthful.
Review by David Rank
Love is Strange is out on 13th February in the UK.. Running time 100 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).