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Love is strange. It’s hard to pin down, impossible to predict and most of the time doesn’t really make much sense. Aristophanes claimed that love was the end of the search for one’s other half. Plato stated that love is a serious mental disease. In the ironic tremble of John Lennon, “Love is all you need.” Ira Sachs‘ lovingly made and tenderly acted film Love is Strange seeks to answer the question: is love all you need?

Ben and George have been in a relationship for 25 years. They’ve shared beds, apartments, lovers. They’ve built a life for themselves. We come into the story and meet the two twilight-yeared lovers on the morning of their marriage, now finally legal. Ben, played by John Lithgow, is as frazzled as his fluffed-up, bone white patch of hair. Scrambling to find his glasses and fidgeting his way through the scene, he’s the id of this relationship’s persona. Alfred Molina‘s George is a statue of patience, a kindly, lovable soul who’s quite clearly the more stable of the two. Their respective professions speak to that fact as well.

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George has taught music for a Christian academy for a great many years whiles Ben is a pretty-much retired artist. They both are passionately involved in the arts but there’s a great divide between the teachers and the doers – as some might say, “Those that can’t do, teach” – one that separates the patient from the impertinent, the socialites from the misanthropes. Ben isn’t as cagey or bitter as one might imagine from an old semi-successful painter but he’s not how one would describe “easy going,” a thread that runs through the film.

Shortly after their wedding nuptials, George is “let go” from his career on the grounds of getting “gay married”. While his argument that “everyone already knew” is logically sound, it’s kinda a no-brainer that a Christian organization isn’t going to be the most supportive of his particular life style choice. As their income well runs dry, Ben and George reach out to their family and close friends, including Marisa Tomei, Darren E. Burrows, and Cheyenne Jackson, to put them up for a while whilst they figure out the proverbial next step. As they soon discover, this new found living situation has a larger impact on both them and their gracious host families than any of them could have initially expected.

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As a showcase of acting prowess, Love is Strange is a beast. Lithgow and Molina both shine improbably bright, with tenderness, honesty and earnestness seeping through their pores. Lithgow hasn’t been this exposed in many years and Molina may have never stood so tall. We feel their connection singing from the screen; each kiss feels as organic as the kale you bought from this morning’s Farmer’s Market, each gentle gesture a remarkable feat of losing yourself to a character. It’s their caring energy and adroit performances that give the film such power, but they manage to outshine some of their younger co-stars.

A side track involving Joey (Charlie Tahan), the petulant son of Tomei, seems at times forced; an avenue for extra drama that isn’t really ever needed. In a film that’s all about nuance, his scenes dump a cold bucket of water on the building sense of subtle, creeping animosity. Aside from a cloying Joey outburst or two though, the supporting cast is a rock-solid addition to keep the affair utterly believable and succulently emotional. Tomei in particular hasn’t been this good since The Wrestler.

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As Sachs’ story draws on, we gain a better understanding of his intentions. This is not a queer story. It’s not a generational story. It’s a timeless saga of the heart wanting what the heart wants, of the people you’re closest to annoying you the most, about personal space and the sucking invasion that is “letting someone crash there”. It’s a tale we’ve all lived through, a junction we all dread. Offering it up with as much honesty as he has, Sachs has brought the heart and soul of a tale not often told onscreen to our attention in an unpolluted and entirely relevant manner. He’s put our lives on the screen and in doing so has made something quite beautiful and often touching.

Beneath Sachs’ caring direction is a wealth of production touches to love, from the handsome set design to the cutting piano sonatas. Susan Jacob‘s classical musical selection is soft and vibrant, giving a sense of sophistication to the picture as Christos Voudoruis‘ warm, amber hues imbrue the drama with a sense of hopefulness, even amongst those most difficult times. Love is Strange is a film made with a heart full of sadness and love and one worth recommending for the soaring performances alone. So is love all you need? Probably not, but it sure does help.

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