I believe Love is Strange is a hard movie to describe and its writer-director Ira Sachs would probably agree with me, because how else does a film such as this end up with a title so unremarkable? This worries me, because bubbling under the surface of that generic title and slightly tricky to explain premise is a beautifully acted, moving story that deserves more attention than it’s probably getting. I don’t know, I don’t carefully follow these things and I’ve already forgotten what this movie was called.
Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been together forever and have finally been given a chance to marry each other. This is considered unacceptable by the Catholic school where George teaches music, and he is consequently unfairly terminated. Suddenly without their main source of income, the newlyweds have to turn to their friends and family for help: they can no longer afford their apartment and need someone to house them until they can find a new place. Unfortunately, no one has a spare room in the city, which means that Ben has to go stay with nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan), with whom he shares a bunk bed, even though that kid’s an only child. Meanwhile George gets to party, party, party with his former neighbors, one of whom is played by Cheyenne Jackson, who, like in his role in 30 Rock, plays an interesting character I’d like to see more of but never get a chance to.
So given that setup, what kind of movie does this want to be? Is it going to be a comedy about elderly, cultured people adapting to the crazy lifestyle of their new roommates? A little bit, yeah. Is it going to be a social issues movie, pointing out problems with the way we society treats homosexual people, the aged, the artistic, or the weird? There’s some of that in here. Is it going to just go straight up romantic and show that as they grow further apart geographically, their love grows even more? That’s definitely a part of it. But Love is Strange isn’t any of those movies exactly and I left the theater not really knowing what I was supposed to get out of it.
Of course, how resonant Love is Strange is for you is not something I can predict. All I can tell you that this movie is worth your time for the acting chops on display alone. Alfred Molina gets some beautiful moments, George is the one who has to directly confront discrimination and the frustrations of losing power of your own life. But John Lithgow absolutely devours this movie as Ben, the soft-spoken half of the couple. If you think of Lithgow as only able to play homicidal sociopaths and over-the-top aliens, here’s a reminder that he can handle what’s in-between those extremes as well.
There are several subplots in Love is Strange that I can’t quite figure out. This is my problem. I’m a 25-year-old single dude who technically still lives at home – I don’t have all the answers, certainly not in regard to the big things like life, family, and real companionship. I don’t have it all figured out. After all, love is strange.