Love Is Strange

Life brings abrupt and nasty surprises, as New York City gay couple George (Alfred Molina) and Benjamin (John Lithgow) discover one fine sunny day in Ira Sachs’ mellow film, Love Is Strange, which starts its run in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver on Sept. 19.

The pair are resting in bed in the quiet opening scene. Alfred is fast asleep and Benjamin is wide awake, staring at the ceiling. It’s a special day for both of them. After 39 years of cohabitation, they’re finally going to get married.

At a celebratory party following the civil ceremony, Benjamin — a pensioner and artist — sings a sweet song dedicated to George, a music teacher. “You’ve got what it takes, and not just in the kitchen,” he croons, referring to George’s sexual prowess

After they kiss to seal their matrimonial bond, Kate (Marisa Tomei), one of their friends, coos, “May this marriage last forever.”

John Lithgow, left, and Alfred Molina play a gay couple in New York City
John Lithgow, left, and Alfred Molina play a gay couple in New York City

On this euphoric high, Sachs suddenly breaks the upbeat mood. In a brief scene that establishes the core plot of the movie, the principal of George’s strait laced Catholic school calls him into his office. Yes, the news is bad. George’s same-sex marriage is frowned upon by the socially conservative school. “The bishop isn’t happy,” says his boss, foreshadowing what comes next. George is summarily sacked, effective immediately.

Having lost a hefty portion of their income, George and Benjamin have no choice but to retrench. They must sell their tastefully-furnished apartment as soon as possible and look for an affordable rental unit in New York City’s crazy real estate market. In the meantime, they need to find temporary accommodations. Here’s where family and friends come in. Benjamin’s nephew (Darren Burrows), Kate’s husband, invites him to share a room with his temperamental son, Joey( Charlie Tahan), while George moves in with two gay policemen downstairs.

The arrangement leaves something to be desired. Benjamin, though an ideal guest, begins to grate on Kate’s and Joey’s nerves, and George is less than content with his hosts’ loud parties. Benjamin and George need a home of their own, but in New York City, the process of finding suitable digs is a lengthy one.

Their predicament is incapsulated in a few choice scenes.  Much to his disappointment, George learns that the taxes and fees on the sale of their condo will be prohibitive, leaving them even less financial wiggle room than they had imagined. George, feeling guilty about his job loss, starts giving private piano lessons.

This is the mundane stuff of life as many people live it. Which is why viewers may be drawn to Love Is Strange. Clearly, life’s humdrum stories are not as boring or as uneventful as one might readily assume. Think of the TV series Seinfeld.

Adding to the film’s appeal are the top-notch performances. Molina and Lithgow seamlessly complement each other, while Tomei is enormously empathetic and more beautiful then ever. And a mellifluous musical score of Chopin’s nocturnes and preludes endow the film with a nice, soft edge.