Director Ira Sachs' movie, from a screenplay he wrote with Mauricio Zacharias, feels a bit like a mashup of Woody Allen and Mike Leigh, but it succeeds on its simple story and its lead actors.
Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) get married in the opening scene. Despite their having been a couple for 39 years, they still gaze at each other like newlyweds. At the reception, surrounded by family and friends in their nice-but-modest apartment, they pound out a rambunctious song together on an old piano, to cheers and tears.
In a commendably non-histrionic scene, George is sacked at his job teaching music at a Catholic school. Seems his marriage violates the rules of employment. Ben, 71 and a painter, has never had commercial success, so the financially strapped couple must sell their apartment. While searching for new digs, they end up crashing separately, George with two younger gay cops (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez) who live downstairs and Ben with his nephew (Darren Burrows) and his wife (Marisa Tomei) and their son, Joey (Charlie Tahan).
This domestic situation provides just enough tension to keep things moving along.
As shot, mostly with natural light, by Christos Voudouris, "Love Is Strange" ambles forward incrementally. Lithgow's Ben wears his heart on his sleeve, and is not above telling a tall tale of his gay-lib pioneering days in order to get free drinks from a bartender. Molina's George combines old-world charm with a keener sense than Ben has of their practical problems.
Sachs uses music of Chopin to set a tone that wavers between sweet and sad, with occasional slivers of humor. A late scene of Ben saying good night to George on the street and descending alone into the subway is a keeper. So is the film's central notion that love between two people can be enriched and nurtured by a wider community.
PLOT Longtime gay couple get married, deal with life's problems
RATING R (language)
CAST Alfred Molina, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei
BOTTOM LINE Superb performances from the two leads make this movie a joy to watch