Friday 13 February 2015

Film Review: Love is Strange (dir. Sachs, 2014)

In his previous film, the fitfully superb Keep the Lights On (2012), Ira Sachs charted a turbulent gay relationship across many years of drug addiction and separation. Sachs’s latest work, Love is Strange, isn’t as tough and challenging as the darker-hued Keep the Lights On was: indeed, it’s hard to think of a more gentle, tender-hearted film than this one. But it also has separation at its heart. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow play George and Benjamin, a New York couple whose decision to marry has unexpected consequences. When the Catholic school that George teaches at objects to the marriage, George loses his job, and, no longer able to afford their apartment, the two men are forced to live apart for a time, George with friends and Benjamin with family members.

From the subtlety and intelligence of its script to the quality of its acting (Lithgow and Molina give perhaps the most delicate performances I’ve ever seen these sometimes-strident actors deliver, and, in support, Marisa Tomei and Charlie Tahan  are every bit as nuanced), Love is Strange is a movie to cherish. The intense pleasure and gratitude that the viewer takes in the film isn’t just to do with its own evident virtues, though. It’s also to do with the cultural moment that the movie happens to be released in, a time when films as cynical as Birdman, as pushy and purely offensive as Whiplash, and TV shows as rancid and crass as Russell T. Davies’ Cucumber are receiving the greatest acclaim and interest.

Love is Strange falls like balm after such productions. In its compassion for its characters, its loving gaze upon them, the movie not only feels mature but also heroic and even radical, just now. Sachs’s generous respect for all of the people he shows us is evident in the way in which he allows scenes to develop and take their time, not straining for effect or revelation but nonetheless giving each moment a quiet power. Sequences – Ben’s reporting a joyful cinema visit or interrupting Tomei’s Kate in her work; George arriving at his husband's lodgings and collapsing into tears; the two men sharing an illicit bunk-bed bunk-up - convey character gracefully and truthfully.

The central relationship is presented with great affection but Sachs doesn’t fall into the Another Year trap of idealising the couple beyond believability or making them too adorable. The pains as well as the pleasures of cohabitation are, after all, one of the movie’s main concerns. Thus, hints at past hurts and betrayals surface, particularly in an exquisitely written late bar scene that subtly (and wittily) places the protagonists in the wider context of gay New York history, while also initiating the movie’s quietly devastating last quarter.

For some, I think, the very gentleness of Love is Strange may be off-putting: they’ll find the protagonists too passive (George's dismissal and its acceptance does pass by a little too lightly); the Chopin on the track too decorous. But, for those who do respond, the movie’s refusal of pushiness will feel like a gift in itself. I should mention, too, the film's distinctive visuals: Christos Voudouris's lensing sustains a bright, airy, highly appealing look that’s vibrant but never too glossy, and that's yet another central aspect of the hospitality and bracing generosity of spirit of this wry and radiant film.


  1. Been hearing good things about this movie recently. Every time Alfred Molina is in anything my ears perk up a bit. Great review.

    On a side note, have been working on a new comedy series entitled Purple Squirrels that you might enjoy. Check out the trailer here:

    Would you be interested in writing a review? If so please drop a line at and we can get it set up.

  2. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina shine in a sweet, heartfelt little New York drama playing Ben and George, two gay men who decide to marry after a 39-year l