In “Love is Strange,” esteemed actors John Lithgow and Alfred Molina star in an old-fashioned love story about a couple in a relationship nearly four decades long, who endure hardship after their long-overdue marriage. George (Molina) teaches music at a Catholic school where everyone knows he’s gay, but after the diocese learns of his marriage to Ben (Lithgow), the administration is forced to fire him. Unable to meet their mortgage, the couple must sell their apartment in Queens, and are soon living apart, forced to crash individually with friends and family as they try to recover their bearings.
Director Ira Sachs (“Keep the Lights On”), who co-wrote the script with Mauricio Zacharias, has created a sympathetic and believable couple in George and Ben, without idealizing them. They still fight and fuss. George chides Ben for his past infidelities in one of the most touching scenes in the film. But in the end, this is a couple who deeply love and respect each other, and the movie successfully makes the case that the couple’s relationship is as valid and worthy as that of any other married couple.
In this case, love is not so strange and completely identifiable. The ensemble of actors who play the couple’s family and friends – who are supportive yet become weary of the couple’s infringement on their privacy when forced to live in close quarters – feature Marisa Tomei, Manny Perez, Eric Tabach, Cheyenne Jackson, Charlie Tahan and Darren E. Burrows.
The Sony Pictures Classic drama, set in Queens and shot over three weeks, screened last night at the Tribeca Film Festival, with a pre-premiere reception at Supper Suite by STK hosted by Fiji Water and Dobel Tequila. Actors at the reception and after party included Lithgow, fellow cast members Manny Perez, Eric Tabach and Charlie Tahan.
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On the Tribeca Film Festival red carpet, I spoke to the director about what inspired him to make the film, which is more mainstream than his previous works.
“I wanted to make a film about that love that blossoms with time, and that was something that for me in my middle age, was new to discover the possibility of love growing and growing more beautiful with every year. So I made this film about a couple who have been together for 40 years and they face the challenges of life, but they do so together. And then also, it’s a film about community and about the group of people who come together to support each other and their different perspectives on love in the different seasons of their own live. That’s a mouth full,” he laughed.
Sachs added, “This film to me is inspired by couples that I’ve known, both gay and straight, because I think, in a way, the basic human elements are so similar between any two people who decide to take the adventure of intimacy. Particularly for me as a filmmaker, I approach character I hope internally, and that’s why I feel that people really connect to the relationship between John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. Whatever your background is, you can connect to these people who wish for love.”
As for how he chose Molina and Lithgow as his leads, the director enthused, “I have really for a long time admired Alfred’s work, since the days of ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ and ‘Boogie Nights,’ just an amazing array of characters. What I didn’t know is what a joyous person he is, and I think together with John Lithgow, who I’d seen but in nothing like this, it was really the day I met John that I realized there was something new that we could do together and something that he could reveal as a person and an actor that we’ve never seen.”