Dig beneath the chat about explicit content and it being reported as a follow-up of sorts to Queer As Folk, and Russell T Davies’ new programme Cucumber has proven itself to be one of the most grown up dramas about relationships of recent times. At a point when television and cinema tends to focus on the challenges of young love, Cucumber takes a cold stare at what happens many years down the line. It’s often uncomfortable to watch, but it feels true, honest and compelling drama.
Love Is Strange attracts fewer headlines, but it too not only treats its audience as grown-ups, it makes sure the film is about grown ups as well.
It centres on the relationship between John Lithgow’s Ben and Alfred Molina’s George, a long-attached couple, who decide to get married. That marriage though has consequences, with George losing his teaching job as a result of it, which in turn places unbearable financial pressures on the couple. The kind of pressures that – bereft of savings – leaves them living in separate places at the point they should be relaxing together.
The pair each have to lean on friends and family just to get a roof over their heads, and that in turn leads to further problems. Love Is Strange explores most of those through Lithgow’s Ben, who – in his early 70s – finds himself sharing a bedroom with his nephew’s troubled teenage son. We get a glimpse too at the difficulties his nephew’s wife – played terrifically by Marisa Tomei – faces in her own life. Her distance from her husband, and the challenges of her teenage son are readily touched upon. She has somewhere secure to live, but looks no happier for it.
Love Is Strange is a drama that downplays fireworks and fanfare, with director and co-writer Ira Sachs instead not only tackling homophobia, but in tandem with that glaring at a society that leaves people working all their life, only to be unable to afford a decent place to live as they get to retirement age. In turn, he then examines the impact that has on the people surrounding them, a warm circle of support that itself gets stretched as Ben and George spend more and more time apart.
Lithgow in particular is excellent here too. His Ben is a multi-faceted character, balancing being a frustrated artist against his simple desire to spend time with the one he loves. We don’t get anywhere near as much of Alfred Molina, which is a shame, as he’s similarly strong. In one conversation between the pair in particular, your heart can’t help but ache for him.
Love Is Strange is a relative economic film. It doesn’t spark too often, but it’s not trying to. It’s telling a gimmick-free story in a rich and intelligent way. In doing so, it tries to cover a lot of ground, only occasionally feeling like it’s over-stretching itself (there are numerous sub-plots it’s generally successfully juggling). Furthermore, not every decision George and Ben make seems to make sense. But it’s a small leap to go with them anyway.
Crucially though, Love Is Strange leaves plenty in the mind once the film itself it over, even though I found myself not oversold on the ending. It’s being released in the UK to coincide with Valentine’s Day, and it’s instantly a million miles away from competitors such as the kink of Fifty Shades Of Grey, and the crowd-pleasing of The Wedding Ringer. I’d wager though, it offers more food for thought than the pair of them combined.
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