‘Love is Strange’ is beautiful, painful and groundbreaking

By Sutton Bradbury-Koster

(Sony Pictures Classics)
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Ira Sachs’s new film, “Love is Strange,” which he directed and co-wrote, is easily one of the most beautiful films of 2014. I found myself welling up multiple times during its relatively short 94 minute duration. But amazingly, it isn’t a tearjerker. This isn’t “The Fault in Our Stars” or “Titanic.” It isn’t for preteens looking for a good cry – it’s for people looking for something that strikes them visually, charges emotions and challenges beliefs. The way the movie portrays love – simple, effortless and nurturing – makes everything so much more heart wrenching. It never drags on or harps on any singular event. It just goes on, just as life does.

The story follows Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), a gay couple together for nearly 40 years as they labor through the tribulations of their relationship. Most of the film takes place following their marriage. The meeting, the first kiss, the moment they fell in love – all of these milestones have already been hit, and we witness the aftermath. It’s a refreshing and interesting spin on the genre as a whole. Ben and George’s relationship has become about the little things. This dynamic of their relationship translates beautifully into Sachs’s directorial style.

The director’s keen eye for detail and motifs satisfies critics and average Joes alike. Sachs’s cinematic choices, such as his use of the color green, classical music, extended still frames and extended shots of isolated individuals, all blend together effortlessly. During scenes of music, the entire piece plays and the camera pans over multiple faces, showcasing all races and genders, a direct message about the overflow of music and love amongst all people.

The film showcases a minimalist approach, utilizing a cast of roughly 30 people. Regardless, the lack of thespians is compensated with the raw emotion and immense talent displayed by them. However, the poignant exchanges between Lithgow and Molina truly steal the show.

Lithgow continues to amaze with his versatility as an actor. Guest starring as Neil Patrick Harris’s estranged father in “How I Met Your Mother,” he played an endearing man trying to make amends for years of detachment. On “Dexter,” he embodied Arthur Mitchell, also known as the Trinity Killer, a prolific serial killer who committed numerous murders for over 30 years in truly gruesome fashions. With this in mind, it is even more impressive to watch him portray an elderly homosexual man with an all too relatable personality of “I am old so listen to my story.”

He shares the big screen with Molina, and together, the duo produces a performance unparalleled in emotion. The chemistry between them is undeniable from start to finish. They personify the “old married couple” cliché with snippets of smattered bickering but exemplify their true love and boundless passion in their actions – a stare and shy laugh here, a reassuring kiss and soft shoulder to cry on there. They exude love. You feel like a part of their love as the movie showcases their intimate moments and you sympathize with them during their distraught times.

There is a lot to learn from “Love is Strange.” It challenges so much of what we know, or at least think we know. It challenges traditional family structure. It challenges our idea of what’s right and wrong. It challenges our very idea of love itself.

But all things that challenge us also teach us. It teaches us about the precious gift of life and the fleeting nature of it all. It shows that risks are meant to be taken and celebrations meant to be had.

So celebrate with those around you. Raise a toast to love, to boundless love, to good love and bad love.

Sutton Bradbury-Koster can be reached at [email protected]