Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, two of the most under recognized actors to grace my cinematic screen for decades, have finally teamed together in one gem of a film. To hear that the two of them would be starring together in a love story, co-starring Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei to boot, my heart sang. What magic could these two capture together on-screen? Turns out, they could capture a lot. In their film Love is Strange by Ira Sachs, which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, they deliver two rich and heart aching performances. Encompassing a sensitive and beautiful soul, Sachs’ film allows for a deep connection, embodied by all the great things that make up a terrific love story.
Set in New York City, the film tells the story of George (Molina) and Ben (Lithgow), who after four decades together get married in a lower Manhattan ceremony. When George loses his job at a catholic school, the two must sell their apartment and live separately until they can find a suitable and affordable home for the both of them. George moves in with two police officers from their building, while Ben ventures off into Brooklyn to live with his nephew and his family, played by Darren Burrows, Marisa Tomei, and Charlie Tahan. The two must adapt to their new living situation, while reevaluating the relationship and the choices that they have made.
Sachs’ script, which he co-wrote with Mauricio Zacharias is adventurous, loving, and pure in nearly every sense. The two manage to capture magic, in both real, genuine moments of love and laughter, and even manage to ask some intriguing questions about our own family and assumptions. Earning quite a bit of laughs along the way, the writing duo tells a very authentic story, that captures the heart and magic of New York City. And while that bit is appreciated, it’s likely the film’s major downfall as well. The film is very capturing of the NYC culture, life, and aura. Something that only New Yorkers can get and appreciate. I don’t know how others, from different walks of life, interpret or appreciate the back drops and subtle nuances of the city. It fully becomes another character in the story.
I have championed Alfred Molina for years. Being the best part of films like Spider-Man 2 and An Education, he has eagerly awaited his next vehicle to shine through. His George is another solid and wonderous outing, likely his most sensitive and accessible role to date. He finds his niche early in the film, leading to tender moments that both enriches and satisfies the soul.
John Lithgow is an acting chameleon. I look back at a career that includes Terms of Endearment, Cliffhanger, Kinsey, and Showtime’s “Dexter,” and I can’t imagine many actors that could hit the sweet spot as consistently as he does. He allows Ben to humanize him in a way I haven’t seen in years. He’s an everyday person that you can connect with, explore, be annoyed by, and virtually see at every family reunion you attend. He’s real, in and out. Lithgow offers balance to him, encompassing pain and fear, but feeling fresh and new. I think it’s one of his best performances he’s ever delivered. A turn that should land him very comfortably into an Oscar conversation.
Marisa Tomei, dependable, resourceful, and flagrantly real, is just as good as she’s ever been. Like a fine wine, she’s only getting better after bravura turns in In the Bedroom and The Wrestler. Her character inhabits a million thought processes at a time, and you can see it worn on her face in every frame, but desperately attempting to hold it all together. Tomei continues to excite me and I can’t wait to see what she continues to explore throughout her career.
Love is Strange is small, and tender story that realizes its limitations but cleverly embraces them. It doesn’t always feel like a smooth ride, missing some beats here and there, and missing some opportunities for true character developments. It’s a solid hit for the independent community. The performances will pull you through.
Love is Strange opens in limited release August 22, 2014.