October 23 — October 30
Love is Strange
|Sat - Sun||2:00||5:00||7:00|
|Mon - Thurs||5:30|
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
Several critics, including Jesse Cataldo, writing for Slant, and Lane Scarberry, writing for Sight on Sound, have noted how this poignant, absorbing drama from director Ira Sachs contains uncanny echoes of the Leo McCarey-directed Make Way for Tomorrow. That 1937 classic dealt with the tribulations of an elderly married couple whose financial difficulties force them to live apart, each staying with different grown-up children who cannot afford to support both parents under the same roof; their relationships with their kids become strained, and their separation causes them much unhappiness. In addition to being one of the first films that dealt sensitively with the economic plight of the elderly, Make Way for Tomorrow was a subtle but pointed commentary on how the Depression of the ’30’s was starting to undermine the traditional bonds of family and marriage, especially for older Americans. The plot of Love Is Strange is oddly, disconcertingly similar: here, a longtime (but unmarried) couple faces great hardships when one of them is unfairly fired from his job, causing them to lose their Manhattan apartment and separate as each is forced to live with younger relatives or friends, all while trying to find an affordable, permanent place to live. The major difference is that Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are gay—it was George who, as choir teacher at a Catholic school, was dismissed when his homosexuality became known. Family and friends do their best to help them out. Sachs demonstrates quite convincingly how one act of institutionalized bigotry results in severe economic repercussions for several people, not just the person discriminated against. More heartbreaking than this injustice, though, is the strain on the couple’s relationship when their formerly idyllic lives are disrupted. Lithgow and Molina are excellent, effortlessly conveying the familiarity of partners who have been together for 39 years (ironically, it is shortly before they’d hoped to get married that George is fired). Their interplay is gentle and low-key; both actors are genuinely affectionate and at least initially have that rather complacent air of couples who know they’re in love because they’ve been in love for so long. Their love gets tested by forces beyond their control—but this might also be the crucible that makes their relationship even stronger. At first, though, the situation seems like a nightmare: Ben will eventually end up staying with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), and teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan) in a claustrophobic Brooklyn loft; George is taken in by sympathetic, much younger neighbors (also gay), but their constantly partying life-style is wrecking his sanity, though he struggles not to be a burden or insult their generosity. Part of the reason these scenes of Ben and George apart are so sad is that the actors have such lovely chemistry together. More often, we see couples fall in love and we’re to assume they live happily ever after; it’s the rare film that focuses on two people (gay or straight) who have loved each other a long time, experienced the ups and downs of a long-term relationship, and remain as deeply devoted as Ben and George. Love Is Strange, despite its serious subject matter, is at heart a mature, affecting love story. Director Sachs and his co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have created a film about the effects of homophobia without focusing on it directly: when George is fired, it’s at the command of higher authorities in the church, not his immediate superior. This is true to life: in many cases, prejudice is wielded by those in power who are far removed from its results—it’s often middle managers carrying out the discriminatory practices of those at the top. The film is also realistic in its depiction of the couple’s family and friends, who are mostly kind, decent, and seemingly non-judgmental, but whose actions are also colored by self-interest and a certain lack of empathy and understanding. Few of the supporting characters are true villains. In Ben’s case, we see the stressful effect his chattering presence has on his nephew’s family. They try to do the right thing but it’s clear that Ben annoys them, and they can’t quite understand why he misses George so much—that’s the limit of their empathy. Some critics have carped that Ben and George are limiting their options by trying to find a place to live together in New York City, that they should accept another relative’s offer to live in Poughkeepsie. That’s a cultural quirk which is difficult for outsiders to understand: many New Yorkers are so attached to the city that they really can’t live outside that environment. Everything else is alien to them. Living outside the Big Apple would be as intimidating as it might be for an older, native Kansan to suddenly move from Manhattan, Kansas, to Manhattan, New York. It’s a scary idea. And besides, Sachs feels that Ben and George deserve some dignity; they can’t fight George’s unfair dismissal legally because he worked for a private school, but they can take a stand and refuse to be forced out of their own city. That would be a little too melodramatic. Ben and George may be in a sad situation but they’re not martyrs; they discover the inner strength to cope. The real message of the film is not that gays are capable of love—one hopes this is widely accepted already—but that gay couples can feel the loss of separation as acutely as straights. It seems like a simple idea, but the film demonstrates how much it’s taken for granted and ignored. Bolstered by two fantastic performances from Lithgow and Molina, Love Is Strange is a mature, emotionally wrenching film that straight or gay moviegoers will appreciate and respond to.
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