The Real Thing, Or: Love is Strangled

[I wrote this some time ago, but it didn’t seem to be published at the time]

 

Love is Strange (Ira Sachs, 2014)
Gay movies always seem to be about death. Well, maybe that’s an over statement but male gay narratives partake of a gothic that seems out of statistical probability. If it’s not HIV related, it’s suicide or a violent end. One reaches for the Kleenex far too often and not in a happy ending way. Living happily ever after is a fantasy too far, it often seems, although – I know, I know – for drama to happen bad things have to happen to good people. (But see Der Kreis)

File Love is Strange under bittersweet. Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have lived together for thirty-nine years, one a talented if unsuccessful artist, the other a talented music teacher for a catholic school. But the marriage means that the school can no longer turn a blind eye to George’s sexuality and he is fired – meaning that they can’t afford the mortgage on their appointment. Whilst there is the option of moving to Poughkeepsie, the two stay in spare rooms (or spare bunkbeds/sofas) of friends and relatives whilst they sort themselves out.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Molina – he was Kenneth Halliwell in Prick Up Your Ears Stephen Frears, 1987), was a hoot as a habitual liar in Trust Me (Tony Dow, 1992) and is in the film of The Normal Heart (Ryan Murphy, 2014) – and Lithgow I first saw as transgendered Roberta in The World According to Garp (George Roy Hill, 1982). The relationship is absolutely beautiful, utterly credible, with a real sense of a shared history between them. The awkwardness of being put up – which rapidly turns in being put up with – is convincing, although I think Kate (Marisa Tomei) is given a bit of a thankless rôle as overly keen host and self-centered if put upon writer. The direction is leisurely, braving the chance to hold a shot for ten seconds longer than comfortable. It feels – not to be critical – that it wanted to be a theatre play. Unlike most New York comedy dramas or sitcoms this is a multiethnic New York.

At the same time as the leisurely pace we are left wanting to know more – one family crisis seems unresolved, George’s letter to the school parents is more political speechifying than plot development, a positive twist is too far in the fairy tale wish-fulfilment territory and the resolution mechanics seem unfocused. The epilogue is positive, a story arc pays off, diversity seems to thrive. But it is a sunset.

Meanwhile, I recognised John Corbett from Northern Exposure, and the face I knew but couldn’t name belongs to Ed (Darren E. Burrows) from the same programme. Game of Thrones gets a product placement, and I’m not sure I’ve seen a Dungeons and Dragons consultant credited before on a film.

All of this is certainly worth a look, although I noted this is another example of how every five years “Hollywood” notes that there is a mature audience as well as teenagers of all ages.

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