By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The strange thing about “Love is Strange” is how very un-strange it is.
It’s the story of two people in love, newly married, who, due to financial difficulties, must live apart until said difficulties are solved.
One goes to stay with a nephew, married to a writer, with a shy, awkwardly adolescent son. The problem (s)? She works at home and their houseguest is inevitably in the way (plus, he must share a room with the aforementioned teen).
And, they live in Brooklyn. Not the Brooklyn of the Times or New York Magazine, but an older, more staid, more not-Manhattan Brooklyn.
The other perches on the sofa bed of a couple of NYC cops whose party-hard lifestyle more than counter-balances their kindness in providing a temporary shelter.
In other words, it’s all a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears without the just-right parts: one bed is too hard, the other too, soft, etc.
Oh…did I mention the couple’s names? They are Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina). So the picture begins as a gay-rights-ish sort of tale.
After almost 40 years together, they are finally able to marry. The wedding itself is a lovely celebration of love and friendship; prominent among the guests are those who will soon provide them a refuge.
What sets the plot in motion is that old moustache-twirling villain: the Catholic Church. Ben is a mostly-retired painter and their income has depended on George’s job at a Catholic school.
As long as he and Ben were just living together, the administration could turn a blind eye (which is certainly what his immediate boss wishes to do). But making the relationship legal means George must be fired. Losing his income puts their apartment in play and so new digs, hopefully temporary, must be found.
One of the lovely things about “Love is Strange” is how the central couple’s sexuality isn’t the point. The true romance here is real-estate lust. If only Manhattan wasn’t so damned dicey-pricey….
Lithgow and Molina are the very essence of enduring love – Shakespearean love that bears it out even to the edge of doom (or Brooklyn). The ever-underrated Marisa Tomei is pitch-perfect as the novelist whose beloved uncle’s constant chatter (while she tries to write at home) is shattering her image of him.
But ultimately, nothing in the story adds up to much. And I found myself thinking – rather meanly – this movie would never had been made if it had been about the travails of a straight couple. So, while being gay isn’t the picture’s essence, it is nonetheless the reason we are seeing it in theaters.
Or let me put it this way: the wrenching, almost unbearable, Oscar-winning French film “Amour” would never be remade by Hollywood unless the elderly couple became a same-sex couple. Ironically enough, gay problems are now human problems in the land of superheroes and sequels. I guess we should be thankful for small favors.
And perhaps, after all, that’s all “Love is Strange” is: a small favor.