Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ira Sachs scores again--with the help of Lithgow and Molina--in his best yet, LOVE IS STRANGE

It's funny but appropriate, I think, that Ira Sachs, the slow-burning wunderkind of gay cinema, should have made two so fine and startlingly different recent films -- in terms of style and content -- as his earlier Keep the Lights On (which told the story of two young, gay men unable to commit) and his new one, LOVE IS STRANGE, which opens theatrically this Friday and tells of two gay seniors for whom commitment was and is a piece of cake (it's life in New York City that's so fucking difficult).

Ms Sachs, whose work grows richer, deeper, broader and more inclusive with each new film, is still working in "pieces." This is evidently a hallmark of his style: selecting those particular fraught moments that become entire scenes in order to show us how life and people work. These are not the "expected" nor typical moments and scenes, either. But under Sachs' guidance, they become hallmarks. From The Delta through 40 Shades of Blue and Married Life, he has continued to do this. But of late, he is doing it in a way that I believe is reaching many more viewers than his first two full-length films. This is because he is finding of late those moments that will ring both true and meaningful for a wider audience, no matter who his characters be -- gay, straight, old, young -- that are experiencing these moments.

Love is Strange finds a couple in its senior years -- John Lithgow (playing Ben, below) and Alfred Molina (in the role of George, above), each man achieving a best-yet performance -- finally able to legally marry after living together for literally decades. The irony here is that one of the two earns his living as a teacher in a Catholic school, at which his homosexuality has gone "unmentioned" for years. Now that he has "outted" himself by marrying, the Church says he must be fired.

Seniors (anyone, actually) living close-to-the-vest financially will understand the sudden predicament in which the couple finds itself. The two cannot afford any longer to live in their apartment -- the legal ins-and-outs of all this is pretty well handled by Sachs without making more of it than the movie's 94-minute running time will accommodate -- and so they find themselves separated and living with relatives/friends for a time.

It is one thing to attend the wedding and propose a warm and meaningful toast to the pair. But it's quite another to have one of the two men living with you, as Ben's nearest family -- husband (Darren E. Burrows, above, center, in white), wife (Marisa Tomei, below) and teenage son (Charlie Tahan, at bottom, with Molina) soon discover.

George is taken in by good friends who are also much younger (and of course, wilder), so the living situation is pretty crummy there, too. Yet Sachs and his co-writer, Mauricio Zacharias, are even-handed in their portrayals. There are no villains here, only people trying to manage their lives while trying to do what is "right" for all concerned.

Ben has lived much of his life as a painter, a good one, but perhaps not the great one he would have liked to have been. Still his work is rather lovely, and he continues to strive, while George now offers piano lessons to children whose parents can afford the fee.

We see all this in fairly quick takes, yet as the movie unfurls, these two men become major figures. We're with them totally, on a day-to-day, as well as a deeply emotional level because Sachs and Zacharias have chosen so wisely what to show us, in a manner that dodges cliche.

This is nowhere more apparent than in the film's closing scenes, so quietly and beautifully rendered that they may stick with you forever. Rather than going after the typical, tear-jerking moments, the filmmakers instead step back. Not a mile, mind you, just a few feet. But enough to show us what has happened from an unexpected viewpoint that allows us to feel and identify with someone else, while keeping in mind our two heroes. The effect is extraordinary, one of the most moving of the movie year.

Love Is Strange opens this coming Friday, August 22, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center, the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Chelsea Cinema 9; in Los Angeles look for it at The Landmark and the Hollywood Arclight 15. In the weeks and months to come, the film will open across the country. To see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, click here and scroll down.

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