In Love Is Strange, Strong Acting, Weak Drama
The inexplicably R-rated film leans heavily on wonderfully subtle efforts from John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.
Rated R, 94 min. Directed by Ira Sachs. Starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan, Tatyana Zbirovskaya, Olya Zueva, Darren E. Burrows, Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez, John Cullum.
There are many questions raised and answered in this film, but one that isn’t is why on Earth it’s garnered an R rating. Love Is Strange is anything but. It’s a seriocomic romance of the most genteel sort, full of heartfelt “I love yous,” brief (and definitely unerotic) snuggling, and a wealth of tremendously fine acting from all involved. There are no explosions, murders, or mayhem of any kind, and the two principal characters are a 71-year-old painter and a Catholic school choral teacher. The answer is right there in the title for those who care to parse the etymology of the word “strange,” a synonym for “queer,” which is, of course, nowspeak for “gay.” There’s your answer, Anita Bryant.
Director Sachs, co-writing with Mauricio Zacharias, goes to great lengths to imbue Ben and George’s unexpected turn of fortune into a heavy dramatic weight, and it works, to a degree. Lovers separated is, after all, a dramatic tentpole. But what strikes you most about the relationship between these two aging men is just how absolutely normal everything is. There’s nary a hint of anything other than pure, unadulterated, longtime love between the two, a fact that is recognized and celebrated at every turn. They might as well be your own aunt and uncle, only sweeter, kinder, and with somewhat better fashion sense.
All this might have become downright tedious were it not for the fact that Lithgow and Molina remain exquisitely watchable actors; their performances here are models of subtlety, especially when nothing all that dramatic is happening onscreen. The fact that even then they draw and hold your attention like ponderous, aging lodestones is reason enough to engage in this otherwise decidedly un-strange romance. Now about that overwrought rating ….
Now playing at the Oriental.