After 39 years together a couple is finally able to marry. A marriage should herald the beginning of something good, but for George and Ben marriage brings injustice which in turn delivers hardship. Can love endure? My review of Love is Strange after the jump.
Love is Strange opens with Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) rushing to get dressed. Ben is fussing and George is calming him down, telling him it will be alright. They leave their home and soon arrive at a beautiful garden, the setting for their wedding. After the wedding we meet their friends and family and witness their joy for the union. That joy is short-lived when George’s employer, a Catholic school, fires him for breaching the Catholic oath he signed when he started as the choir director some 12 years earlier. The loss of George’s income results in the pair ending up in a dire financial situation and they are forced to sell their apartment. George goes to stay with some friends and Ben moves in with his niece (Marisa Tomei) and nephew while they look for somewhere they can afford to rent.
Ben and George’s situation is heart-breaking. Putting aside why George lost his job for the moment, the fact that they so easily ended up in such a bad financial situation is scary. Ben is technically a senior citizen receiving the pension and we can assume that he doesn’t have any super (it seems like he has painted for much of his life), while George is a music teacher in his sixties. They are living a seemingly comfortable life and it all comes crashing down in a matter of weeks. For me, this was a reminder of the importance of saving for retirement. I’m a proud person and asking my friends and family for help like that would be hard. Ben and George clearly struggled with that and you can see how uncomfortable they felt for imposing on their loved ones. There was no guest room for them, there was no private place to escape. My heart really ached for them and the awfulness of their situation.
The fact that George was fired for marrying his life-long partner is so unjust. George is a man of faith who was clearly an expert teacher. The school and the community knew about Ben and yet it was only when they married that it became a problem. To get rid of a dedicated teacher and member of the church for doing something he is entitled to do is so absurd. What did it achieve? No one was better off in this case. My mind boggles.
The central relationship between George and Ben was wonderful to watch and the pair really felt like a couple who had been together for decades. Lithgow and Molina gave wonderful performances, with Molina in particular impressing with his gentle approach to George. He was so incredibly tender, I just wanted to hug him.
Unfortunately the film splits Ben and George apart for the majority of its runtime and it suffers for it. The side-narrative exploring the family dynamics of Ben’s niece and nephew’s family was utterly dull. I couldn’t care less about their awkward son and his friend who may or may not steal French literature from the school library. I sympathizsed with the family’s struggle to accommodate Ben, but aside from that I could have done without their presence. George’s friends were slightly more interesting, however George was side-lined for much of their separation in favour of Ben and his family. George was such an enduring character and I would have liked to spend more time with him. Sachs created such interesting and loveable characters with George and Ben, why did he decide to keep them apart for so long? Sure it served to make their situation harder, but the film lost its way without their relationship to anchor it.
A New York love story with a sad sting, Love is Strange may cause you to double-check your retirement fund.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Ira Sachs
Writer(s): Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Starring: Marisa Tomei, John Lithgow, Alfred Molina
Runtime: 98 minutes