Romantic films have a tendency to get it wrong by featuring uninteresting characters and becoming cliché-ridden. This though is an example from the genre that, though imperfect, has nothing of the sort.
Love is Strange is a dramedy which stars Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as George and Ben, a couple living in Manhattan who marry after 39 years together.
The first ten minutes is happy-go-lucky territory with the wedding and Molina and Lithgow (in lead roles rather than their traditional supporting) immediately disappearing into the roles of the loved-up couple.
The plot then moves on to the subsequent events of the wedding.
George, a music teacher in a Catholic school, is fired from his position, leaving him and Ben, a retired artist, forced to sell their apartment when they can no longer afford to live in it. They are then forced to rely on the kindness of family and friends while searching for an affordable replacement. Being Manhattan, we can tell straight away this is not going to be a week or so as Ben expresses.
George is taken in by police officer friends who live in the apartment below while Ben moves in with his niece (Marisa Tomei), her husband and wayward teenage son. An author used to silence in the day, she is driven to constant distraction by Ben’s quietly funny but unwanted conservations while her son makes it clear he is not happy at sharing a room with him. On the other side, George is confined to sleepless nights due to his housemates’ random gatherings and love for late-night dinner parties.
Ben’s new lifestyle is much more entertaining to watch though than that of George’s given the unexpected humour and better range of storytelling expressed within. A storyline revolving around the son being accused of stealing library books could have been an unwelcome distraction but actually betters a sequence involving George reluctantly engaging with a guest at one of the dinner parties.
Molina and Lithgow are both very good to watch, but between the two, Molina’s openly emotional performance impresses more than Lithgow’s which is mainly designed to represent the comedic area of the relationship.
Like the narrative of Drake Domerus’s 2011 drama Like Crazy, the film succeeds by not just focusing on the struggles both go through as they adjust to being apart, and longer than they anticipated, but also the lives and events of their newfound company. It makes for a generally entertaining study of characters from different walks of life while reminding us of the genuine love story at the heart of it all. Some of the lesser interesting scenes could have been shortened and more time given to more entertaining scenes but thanks to its writing of characters, this is a good example of a film about genuine relationships.