Love is Strange

I believe the world is a better place if people aren’t lying

Year Released : 2014LIS-poster-s
Director : Ira Sachs
Cast : John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson and Harriet Samson Harris

If there is a phrase that all movie goers should fear, it is “critically acclaimed”. I have found myself often going against what the professional critics say. I tend to like films that they hate and vice-versa. Whenever I see that a film is critically acclaimed then I tend to stay clear of them because they tend not to be that interesting, a pretentious and about as enjoyable as stepping on a rusty nail.

When I first saw the trailer for Love is Strange, I was intrigued by what is an interesting concept and a plot that isn’t really explored in films. Marriage between same sex couples became legal several years ago but I couldn’t tell you a single film, other than this, that he seen a cinema release covering the subject in a serious manner.

Then I saw that it was critically acclaimed and my heart sunk. Professional Critics tend to like films that are slow moving, don’t really have a lot going on and characters that despite having a lot about them, don’t develop at all during the course of the films length. Because of this I was highly sceptical, but decided to give it a go anyway.

Plot

After being together for 39 years, Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina) finally get married with their friends any family around. At first everything is perfect and they couldn’t be happier, but soon thereafter they start having issues as George is fired from the catholic school that he works at. The two realise that they can no longer afford to live in their apartment and they turn to their friends and family to help them whilst they’re trying to sort themselves out.

Ben goes to stay with his nephew, whereas George goes to stay with friends. Ben’s family loves having him there at first, but his outgoing nature means that he soon starts distracting Kate (Tomei) from doing her work. Meanwhile George is uncomfortable staying in his friend’s apartment due to the considerably different lifestyle.

Things soon start picking up though when George decides he has had enough and goes to stay with Ben and his family. The two start looking optimistically to the future and find the community’s attitude towards their sexuality, but things soon change when Ben’s health take a downward turn.

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So was the scepticism justified?

The film started off really well. I thoroughly enjoyed the opening fifteen or so minutes brought you nicely into the lives of these two men and their first stage of marriage. It was an excellent opening and I felt optimistic for the remaining seventy five minutes, but it quickly lost a lot of momentum after that. The film dedicates around thirty minutes or so of the couple living apart due to their living situation, but it is a very slow thirty minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is told excellently about how both men struggle to cope apart from each other, but the film seems to stand somewhat still for a third of the film. For a few minutes here and there I could forgive it but not all in one chunk. Again, don’t get me wrong, I understand the purpose of the separation and the point of them longing for each other, struggling in their new surroundings, but in that half an hour I went from being excited about the film to being a bit unengaged. The fact I started watching it on Wednesday evening and only finished it on Thursday evening tells it’s own story (although to be far I did start watching it at about 11pm)

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However, that is pretty much my only complaint with the film. I’m not going to go as far as the critics did and give it a brilliant review when it doesn’t deserve one, but it is definitely an interesting look at a life that most people will never experience. It’s a great character study and a film which looks at the term “familiarity breeds contempt”.

I myself try to keep my distance from people if I have seen them too much in a short about of time. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to spend more time with my family and friends, but I know that if I actually spent too much time with them that I would start noticing things that would drive me crazy, and that is superbly shown in this, especially with Ben. As time goes on, characters that previously loved him struggle to cope with his quirks and struggling to keep quiet.

Ben is oblivious to how he starts grinding on his family and this is down to Lithgow’s brilliant display. Lithgow has turned in several excellent performances in recent years and like a fine wine, he seems to be getting better with age. Lithgow is one of Hollywood’s finer older actors for the simple reason that he accepts that he is getting older and doesn’t turn down roles because of his age, unlike other certain actors *cough*Sean Connery*cough*.

Lithgow is wonderful in this film and the best part is that he makes it look effortless. I grew up watching him in films such as “Harry and the Hendersons” and TV shows such as “Third Rock From the Sun”, and it’s rare to see an older actor with the flexibility to pull of roles of varying genres. He can pull of eccentric just as well as he can appearing completely vulnerable.

I love the realism with the film and it’s obvious that the main characters have been sheltered, which leads to the very life like scene where they are being introduced to more mainstream media, such as Game of Thrones, and have no idea what it is. This fits in which Ben seemingly perfectly as he gets nostalgic on a regular basis and never strikes you as a character that would have embraced that made new forms of media.

Finally, I’m going to talk about what probably gave me the most satisfaction in the film and that is that Sachs didn’t go down the route of showing the stereotypical same-sex couple. More often than not, the stereotype of two men being in love with each other is that at least one of them is overly effeminate, but isn’t very true to life. Being transgender myself, I know quite a few same sex couples in which neither of them are overly effeminate, or in the case of two women getting married, neither being butch. It is a stereotype that is too often shown and it is a relief to see a movie that accepts that this isn’t always going to be the case.

Neither George or Ben are effeminate, nor do they have many feminine qualities, they happen to just be two men that have fallen in love with each. Now, don’t get me wrong, whilst the stereotype is also true of a lot of same sex marriages, the relationship between George and Ben seems very grounded in reality and they have conversations that you would expect a real couple to actually have. Granted, I don’t think that Lithgow and Molina have any chemistry whatsoever, but that doesn’t distract from one of the more genuine love stories that I have seen on screen in sometime.

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Summary

Whilst it doesn’t really deserve to be critically acclaimed, it’s not an awful film by any stretch of the imagination. My only major problem with the film is that after an excellent opening fifteen minutes, the remaining 75 is exceptionally slow.

The characters are somewhat underdeveloped, and this isn’t helped by Molina and Lithgow having seemingly no chemistry at all, however, the latter almost single handedly saves the film with his heartwarming performance.

It’s hard to really recommend it based simply on that I will never watch it again, but if you’re interested in a story about love and relationships that is different from what you’ve seen before, go right ahead.

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