Ashvegas Movie Review: Love Is Strange


By Marcianne Miller

Fast Cut: Poignant, realistic gay love story.
Special Note: Terrific performances from John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.
Players: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Charley Tahan, Darren E. Burrows.
Director: Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, 2012, Married Life, 2007)
Rated R for language.
Currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas and Fine Arts. Check theatres for times.
Grade: B+

Love Is Strange is a beautiful, sweet, heartbreaking love story that takes place in New York City but could indeed be an Asheville tale. Two gay men have been together for nearly 40 years, until the challenge of affordable housing raises its ugly head and threatens to destroy their relationship.

What’s most remarkable about this unpretentious gem (directed by Ira Sachs with an elegant, light touch) are the performances of the lovers, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina). The actors are so perfect together it’s nearly impossible to accept that they haven’t been a couple in real life. If this were a larger film, both men could expect Oscar nominations.

No matter how annoying they might be to an outsider, the bond between the two men is unbreakable, even with bouts of infidelity. Ben is retired on a small pension and pursues his passion for painting. George is the musical director at the local Catholic High School.

They decide to go on a honeymoon to Petra, costing a small fortune, and then figure it’s time to get married. It’s an unforgettable day with all their friends and family crowded into their cozy co-op where they proudly display all the mementoes of their happy life together. Then, as it can in the lives of so many elderly people, disaster strikes. The bishop fires George after news of his gay wedding becomes known.

The couple can’t live without George’s income. They must sell their beloved co-op, but they make hardly any profit on it. Being in New York – hello Asheville – it’s impossible for them to find affordable housing. The bureaucratic hoops they have to jump are so infuriating it could be deadly. No one can take in the two of them. They end up separating, each of them staying “temporarily” somewhere else. Of course each place, being in New York, is already crowded and there’s no extra room for the men’s possessions.

Ben stays with his writer niece (Marisa Tomei) and her husband (Darren E. Burrows), sleeping on the lower bunk with teenage son Joey, on the top. George ends up on the couch in an apartment with two gay cops who love to host wild parties. Each of the men, and their hospitality givers, are going crazy. “When you live with people,” Ben admits to George, “You know them better than you want to.” Anybody who’s had a houseguest more than three days knows how true that is. Life goes on even with a houseguest taking up room and ruining your privacy. In time everybody’s ready to kill.

The backdrop of Ben and George’s journey is the enduring excitement of New York City, the masses of people, the constant stimulation, the sheer vitality of the place. Not too dissimilar from Asheville actually. Unable to live together, Ben and George meet for “dates,” and another whole chapter of their lives begins.

One swear word garnered this movie an R-rating. Which is ridiculous, because many young people could see this movie and not only enjoy it thoroughly but learn a lot about what the gay life may mean for them. Equally important, straight people, young or old, can get an insight to what true love can really look like when it’s been enjoyed for a long time.

Without CGI effects and monsters, Love Is Strange won’t last long, so do see it soon. The film’s website is worth visiting.

Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Assn.) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Assn.) Email her at