Susan Granger's review of 'Love Is Strange'
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina deliver touching, tour-de-force performances as Ben and George, an elderly Manhattan couple who get married after almost four decades of living together. The story begins on their wedding day, as friends and family gather 'round to wish them well.
What they don't realize is that George will immediately get fired from his job as music director at a Roman Catholic school because of ironclad diocesan rules. Since 71-year-old Ben is a retired painter, the newlyweds can no longer afford to pay the mortgage on their cozy co-op in the West Village. While searching for a suitable, affordable, if smaller, apartment and dealing with the complications of urban bureaucracy, they're temporarily forced to bunk separately.
Melancholy, pragmatic George, who emigrated from Britain years ago, moves in with two much-younger, gay NYPD cops (Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez) who live downstairs, while loquacious Ben is dispatched to the Brooklyn apartment occupied by his filmmaker nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his novelist wife, prickly Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their angst-riddled teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). A niece offers them lodgings in her spacious Poughkeepsie home, but her hospitality is immediately declined because it's too far out of town. It's a humiliating dilemma because, as George so astutely puts it: "When you live with people, you know them better than you care to."
Thoughtfully written by Mauricio Zacharias and director Ira Sachs, who previously collaborated on "Keep the Lights On" (2012), the mellow, sensitive script explores intergenerational differences and unobtrusive loneliness -- at a leisurely pace. Unfortunately, the overly loud soundtrack, which leans heavily on contemplative Chopin etudes, is intrusive, but the actors adroitly manage to keep the concept afloat. Although Lithgow and Molina have never acted together before, their camaraderie seems natural and their open affection for one another is unbounded. It's their tender, long-term commitment that remains most memorable.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Love Is Strange" is a gentle, bittersweet 7 -- about love in its many permutations.