Critical Mass: 'Love is Strange' might be the best movie in theaters this Labor Day weekend

love-is-strange

Image Credit: Jeong Park

With a lackluster collection of films opening wide in multiplexes this holiday weekend, it’s time to herald an indie gem. Love is Strange debuted at Sundance in January, and opened to the top per-screen average in select theaters last weekend. It expands slightly today, and critics seem to be near-unanimous that it’s worth seeking out.

Directed by Ira Sachs, the film tells the story of George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John Lithgow), a gay New York City couple who officially tie the knot after 39 years together. But once their relationship is made legal, George is fired by the Catholic school where he teaches music. Since Ben is a painter with little income, the couple can no longer afford their apartment, and they’re forced to split up and crash with friends and family while they sort things out. George moves downstairs, where he endures life with two boisterous gay cops (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez). Ben gets a bunk at his nephew’s house in Brooklyn, where he can’t help but disrupt the lives of his nephew’s wife (Marisa Tomei) and her household.

Though the film is about a gay couple, it’s not a film with a political agenda. “Sachs takes an impeccably balanced approach to the film,” writes EW’s Joe McGovern. “It’s neither an advertisement for same-sex marriage nor a scold against the Catholic Church. In one scene, George reads a letter he had sent to his students’ parents; his voice-over is matched to a graceful montage of daily life within the school as he says, ‘Life has its obstacles, but I’ve learned early on that they will always be lessened if faced with honesty.’ That’s as close to sermonizing as Sachs gets.”

Read more from EW’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below. And be ready for Love is Strange when it comes to your neck of the woods.  

Joe McGovern (Entertainment Weekly) ▲
“[Sach’s] ironic title refers to all tough relationships, including the one that the characters have with New York City. In how it mirrors life’s joys and disappointments, and charges a minimum of $1,500 per month for the privilege, the city is as much a leading player here as Molina and Lithgow—both of whom, in their many decades as actors, have rarely been as beguiling or moving on screen.”

Anthony Lane (New Yorker)
Love Is Strange … is not about gay marriage. It is about a marriage that happens to be gay. If the film grows slightly boring, even that can be construed as an advance. In the dramatizing of gay rights, somebody needed to include the right of same-sex partners to be as bogged down in moping and pettiness as anyone else.”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)
Love Is Strange turns out to be a subtle, sidelong coming-of-age and letting-go-of-age story, a lyrical ode to longing and passion that were there all along, had we only noticed. … The strangest thing about Love Is Strange is how completely un-strange it is, from its familiar family dynamics to its exquisite honesty and compassion.”

Claudia Puig (USA Today)
“Like the best stories, Love Is Strange examines a very specific situation and precisely rendered characters and, in the process, reveals their universality. A deeply poignant and understated tale, with a pair of masterful performance at its core, Love Is Strange is a profoundly moving examination of love’s ability to withstand adversity.”

A.O. Scott (New York Times) ▲
“The impact of the final scenes—tears are highly probable—comes from the curious, cumulative sense of intimacy. By the time the movie is over, you feel as if the people in it were friends you know well enough to tire of, and to miss terribly when they go away.”

Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times) ▲
“Molina is a master of minimalism. The slightest shrug or the briefest smile carries a lifetime of observational wisdom with it. In contrast, Lithgow is like a dancer, expressive movements, quieter in his flourishes here.”

Walter Addiego (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Lithgow and Molina are outstanding at conveying the men’s reactions to the indignities they are forced to suffer at a time when many others are settling into a contented retirement. … These are exceptionally endearing performances.”

Dana Stevens (Slate) ▲
“Lithgow and Molina play Ben and George with such depth, tenderness, and history that their affection for one another’s bodies (there’s no sex, but loads of snuggling) seems like a natural extension of their pleasure in being together.”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire) ▲
“The formidable supporting cast draw out the sense of great motion encircling the couple’s increasingly static lives. Tahan, as George’s angry, confused great-nephew, stands out as the film’s great counter-point to the quieter struggles of the older men.”

Peter Debruge (Variety) ▲
“The script pays careful attention to the feelings of the other characters as well, especially young Joey, whose parents begin to suspect he might be gay… Like the Eric Rohmer of modern Manhattan, Sachs opens his arms wide and embraces the emotional complexity of his entire ensemble.”

David Edelstein (New York)
Love Is Strange is drab-looking and has its longueurs, but it’s emotionally very full. The piano soundtrack, heavy on Chopin, is conducive to meditation, and the actors are in tune with its gentleness. I loved Lithgow’s dreamy sadness and Molina’s heavier one—George knew that by going public with his love, he was putting them both at risk.”

Love is Strange
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 84
Rotten Tomatoes: 97 percent

Rated: R
Length: 98 Minutes
Starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei
Directed by Ira Sachs
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics


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