Love is Strange is an update of Make Way for Tomorrow, Leo McCarey’s Depression-era film about a elderly couple forced to live apart due to a late-in-life financial setback. After Ben (Alfred Molina) is fired from his job as a music instructor at a Catholic school, he and is new husband, Ben (John Lithgow) find that they are unable to continue to pay their mortgage and do not have enough equity in their home to find a new place. Moving out of New York City is out of the question, but staying in New York means splitting up. George moves in with a younger gay couple in Manhattan and Ben moves in with his nephew’s family in Brooklyn.
Both Lithgow and Molina give strong performances as the main couple. When they are together, they are happy and the audience can feel that connection. They miss each other and the life they had together deeply. Marissa Tomei is also compelling as Kate, the wife of Ben’s nephew, who must endure the much of the disruption of having a semi-permanent guest in her house whom she can’t ask to leave.
But a fine cast does not an interesting moving make. Yes, we are heartbroken near the end when it turns out that Ben and George won’t be able to reunite, but the film itself meanders quite a bit. The problem is that everyone is very nice, so if there is a conflict, it is very muted. We never really explore the situation George finds himself in; we learn that the younger gay couple are policemen who like to throw parties at their house until late into the night, but otherwise, we learn nothing about how they feel about having an older housemate. On the other hand, Ben learns quite a bit about the workings of his nephew’s family. Unfortunately, none of it is very interesting for him or for the audience.
Ben shares a room with Joey (Charlie Tahan), a boy of around 15 or 16 who has a secret he is keeping from his parents and who gets in trouble at school for stealing books from the library. The “secret” turns out to be that he is studying French on the sly with his friend, Vlad (Eric Tabach) in order to go on a school trip to France with some girls (or to meet girls. It isn’t clear). Why the two needed to steal books to learn French and keep that a secret is not explained all that well. They live in New York where there are many places to find copies of Molière and both kids come from the types of families who’d be supportive of their children in their efforts. The “secret” would have made more sense were this movie set in China during the Cultural Revolution, where having copies of The Miser would carry a harsher punishment than a fine from a school library.
The movie is worth seeing for the performances of the leads, who I am sure will be nominated for an award or two. Since older gay couples in mainstream features are rare, one can give credit where credit is due for the premise. But beyond the main stars few scenes together, there isn’t much here.
Rating: *** out of five.
IMDB: Love is Strange (2014)