Saturday, 14 February 2015

Film: 'Love is Strange'

Attractive, modestly-pitched feature, coming in at a sensible and digestible hour and a half.

Alfred Molina (retaining his English accent) and John Lithgow play a New York couple who have been living together for 39 years and, at the start of the film, take the opportunity to get married. Their relationship is an issue only once in the whole film. Just after the wedding, Molina, a music teacher at a Catholic school, is told by the priest-headmaster that his wedding pictures have been seen on Facebook and that, since he signed an agreement to abide by the teaching of 'The Holy Mother Church' (Hallelujah!), notwithstanding that he was known by the school to be gay and in a long-term relationship, he must now, perforce, be dismissed. That is the only time that their relationship is 'challenged'. Of course his dismissal has consequences, mainly that the pair's income is vastly reduced and for that reason they must leave their apartment, temporarily living with, for Molina, a gay policemen couple (bearded Manny Perez, hot! - though with too little to do) and Lithgow ('Uncle Ben') with his nephew and his wife (Darren Burrows & Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son, the latter quickly becoming resentful of Lithgow's presence in having to share his bedroom and crowding his space.

There are no scenes of big-scale histrionics, certainly not in the Molina-Lithgow pairing, the only true disagreements are between the youth and his parents. In days past we might have expected a gay relationship (which would have been implied rather than explicitly shown), to have been littered with bitchy tiffs, maybe fighting, even with hard violence, as if to show to the world what sort of people they (we) really are like. No such thing here. It's a faithful, unspectacular coupling. In fact the film's title is misleading, the only 'strange' thing about it being, nowadays, the relative rarity of such longevity in the two mens love for each other.

When the film is well-advanced there is a sudden lurch forward in time which may make some of the audience feel they've been cheated. It did give me a bit of a start but it did also underline the 'normality' of the couple's life together.

Two slight criticisms. The soundtrack is entirely Chopin (solo piano, naturally) which at times was played, or at least relayed on the soundtrack, far too loud, occasionally obscuring the dialogue.
Then, in just one but fairly extended scene, there's young, good-looking English actor, Christian Coulson whose acting I found so mannered as to be a distraction. Others may disagree, though as he was only on screen for a little while it wasn't a serious point.

I see this film has been given an 'R' certificate in America. One can only wonder why - and despair! Do those who decided on it, are they the same people who are nervous that younger people seeing two grown men kissing each other (which is not overdone), and hugging, touching hands etc - nothing more racy than that - is it going to turn them gay? Oh horror! I should have imagined we would all have been past that kind of thinking by now, but apparently there are still such people in the film industry and they still wield power!
In the U.K. it gets a '15' certificate because of the occasional 'strong language ', though thinking back, I can't recall a single incidence of that, though I concede that there must have been.

I'd be interested to know what the Catholic Church's position on this film is. They must, surely, be satisfied that their teaching is so accurately portrayed, but I'd guess they might be less happy that the gay couple are depicted as being so, well, 'normal' - not exactly the notion that I think they'd like to be conveyed.

'Love is strange' is a good film (Director and co-writer: Ira Sachs). Small-scale certainly, but none the worse for that. I recommend it with a solid ....................7.


  1. this isnt at the cinema here either but I think I will see if it is on in Bath and take my friend. A 7 is a really good score. worth seeing. I heard from 2 friends that they will watch it again on DVD so that is good enough for me

    1. It's showing in this area only at Brighton's art-house, Sol. If Bath (or Bristol) has one it's certain to be on sometime there. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

  2. This was a definite must see for me and perhaps that is why I felt a little let down.

    Molina and Lithgow were lovely, but the story concentrated too much on secondary characters. And what's with the ending?. Frankly, I did not understand it at all. Maybe you can clear things up a little.

    The Music was just too loud and out of synch with the story. Luckily, I had the Remote handy and was able to turn down the music. Hated to do that to Chopin.

    1. I've heard a few complaints of this film about loose ends being left untied, Paul. It didn't trouble me too much, though I too was puzzled by the very final shot - almost as if to say "But THIS is where the future lies", which, if so, is rather at odds with the main body of the film.
      I didn't particularly feel that overdue focus was put on the outer characters, On the contrary, it seemed to give the central pair something sharp to play off against, showing just how 'everyday' their relationship was, rather than their living in a secluded world shut away from others living their lives.

      Re the music: I was not only a bit irritated at its prominence, I was also distracted by the lovely D-flat Berceuse, heard two (or was it three?) times, being taken at such a fair lick, faster than I think I've ever heard it before. Hardly appropriate for a 'lullaby'..

      Last night I heard another review on the radio, where a panel of three critics were unanimous in their praise of the film, at least two of them saying that it was the best film they've seen in many months. Well, I wouldn't go anywhere near as far as that, in fact I don't know if I'll remember it that well come the end of 2015, but it was indeed good and such a change to see a late-middle aged and elderly gay couple being presented so free from cliches.
      While the film was playing I was thinking that this is just the kind of film that wouldn't be allowed to be screened in Russia or certain other Eastern European states as there's nothing about any negative side of being gay (apart from being subject to prejudice), which is not the message the state wishes to promulgate. (We'll say nothing of most African and Islamic countries)..

  3. Replies
    1. 'Twas so indeed, J.G. I hope you'll get to see it. You ought to be able to relate to it better than most, and certainly more than I was able to, so you may end up enjoying it even more.

  4. I Hadn't heard of this one, I will put it on my to watch list.

    1. It's had quite a splash opening here, F.B., and if you see it you won't be wasting your time. Maybe because of its sadly restricted certificate where you are it's been more muted.

  5. I rather liked the sound of it Ray and your review only serves to whet my appetite further. I've always been a fan of Molina (since Prick up your ears).

    1. Recommended for all ages and all sexes, Craig.
      Molina here is given a chance to show his tender side, and it doesn't require a great leap of credibility to see him being so. I actually first noticed him when he was playing Jud in Oxford in a national tour of 'Oklahoma', preceding 'Prick' by a couple of years, I think. I remember feeling sorry for him at the curtain call when, as nearly every actor in that thankless and unlikeable part is, he was loudly booed!
      Going back still further, I first became aware of John Lithgow in 'The World According to Garp' with Robin Williams, playing the most physically unlikely of transexuals, a burly baseball player, I think.