Friday, February 13, 2015

Love Is Strange (2014)

Director: Ira Sachs
Writers:  Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Cast:       John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei

After Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina) gets married after living together for twenty years, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing--a situation that weighs heavily on all involved.

The fact that they are gay does not weigh heavily on the film. It is only used as a minor plot point with George getting fired from his musical teaching post in a school run by Catholics for his marriage. So the film is trying to reflect the normalcy around it that is there in Western World with many states in US also legitimizing same-sex marriages. The film may very well could have had a hetero-sexual couple as its protagonists. One could argue that if they had kids it would have affected the film but I don't buy it since in Western World parents usually don't stay with kids and vice-versa.

The film begins with their marriage and showing how accepting their friends and relatives are to the whole idea. When they are forced to live separately, Ben is staying with his nephew's family and George with their now former neighbors. George is an introvert and finds it hard with his hosts having their friends also frequenting their apartment. Ben's nephew is always busy with work and his wife (Marisa Tomei) is a writer which makes the situation quite awkward since she prefers to work without any distractions. He is bunking with their teenage son Joey who is also not enamored by the invasion into his private space. This kind of situation is something that has been quite common theme in Malayalam cinema with the exception that one of the partner's death is the usual cause for the situation. I think I have seen one film with an exact situation like this one where a couple is forced to live separately with two different children of theirs but I don't remember which film was that. These kind of Malayalam films tend to have either monetary issues, lack of time or a cruel relative being the cause for tensions whereas in 'Love is Strange' it is the lack of space in an expensive city like New-York. 

Many of us have been in this uncomfortable situation of having a relative or a stranger staying at our place. It doesn't matter how well you get along prior to this, living in same house and occupying same space will cause friction. It is also something that I have noticed in friendships. If you can endure the challenge of living together, the friendship will be better for it and many of my best friends are from my time during my first job where I had to share an apartment with my friends. Living together means you cannot hide what you really are and you have to be accepting of others at their best and their worst. This is exactly why I also think cohabitation is a must before marriage since it is the only way to truly know a person. In India, arranged marriage is the norm and it can be very much like two strangers suddenly forced to live together. Even in love marriages there is plenty of scope to fake your personality or just be on your best behavior prior to the marriage and wondering whether you've indeed married a stranger after the event.

I went off on a tangent and coming back to the film, it is a great watch. The great thing about it  is that it doesn't overplay the reactions and we have a better understanding about what they are saying to each other than they themselves. Nobody is portrayed in an overly positive or negative light and all of it is very relatable. It doesn't amp up on specific events and this gives us a sense of subtlety to the whole thing. I haven't seen other works of the director and it was good to see Alfred Molina playing against type. The role played by Marisa Tomei is also good in the sense that it is a very realistic ally behaving normal character and an inevitable shout-out for 'George Costanza' with whom I always associate her with.

Rating: 4.5/5