Lithgow and Molina Elevate "Strange"

Lithgow and Molina Elevate "Strange"

When director Leo McCarey was awarded the Academy Award for Best Director in 1938 for his film The Awful Truth, he said in his acceptance speech that he was getting the Oscar for the wrong movie.  He was referring to his other 1937 effort Make Way for Tomorrow, a heartbreaking examination of the vagaries of getting old in which we witness how the marriage of an elderly couple comes to a tragic end as they are forced to live separately due to economic concerns, shuffled from one family member’s home to another until they ultimately forced to stay apart permanently.

Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange pays more than a passing resemblance to Tomorrow, powerfully updating the story, taking a modern look at ageism as well as common economic difficulties that can severely limit how senior citizens spend their golden years.    

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Together for nearly 40 years, Ben and George (John Lithgow & Alfred Molina) are finally able to marry legally.  They take this step with great joy, looking forward to spend their remaining years in wedded bliss.  However, when the Catholic school where George works catches wind of this, they fire him as his lifestyle runs counter to the church’s doctrine.  The loss of this income sends the couple into a tailspin as Ben’s pension isn’t large enough to cover their expenses and they are forced to sell their mid-town apartment. 

Suddenly homeless, George accepts an invitation to move in, temporarily, with two much younger gay men (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez), whose apartment is a hotbed of activity with little peace or quiet to be found. Meanwhile, Ben moves in with his nephew (Darren Burrows), his wife (Marisa Tomei), and their temperamental teenage son (Charlie Tahan), forced to sleep in the bottom bunk in the young man’s room.

Sachs, who co-wrote the film with Mauricio Zacharias, pulls no punches in presenting an uncompromising look at Ben and George’s plight, showing how easy it is for any of us to suddenly find ourselves living on the margins of society.  The couple’s situation, which soon begins a downward spiral that will become impossible to pull out of, is made all the more heartbreaking due to their sincere belief that their lives be righted and they will be able to return to the life they’ve been accustomed to.

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It comes as no surprise that veterans Lithgow and Molina are so good here.  They know that milking any scene they’re in for pathos or overplaying one moment would spell doom for the picture. They both know that less is more here and underplay their parts with subtle efficiency.  This is never more obvious than during the second act in which Ben invades his nephew’s home. This could have played out like a bad sit-con at any point but Sachs guides his cast with a capable hand, pulling serious yet not overdone performances from all involved with Lithgow used at the anchor in each of these moments.

While on the surface Love may been seen as a cautionary tale, at its core it’s a moving love story as Ben and George prove to be the most devote couple, staying true to one another and the possibility of a future together while enduring extreme emotional trails.  Their example is one to be emulated as in the end, those who understand us best are the only ones we can rely on. 

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