Love is Strange (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Jan/150

Love is Strange (2014)

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George and Ben have been together for decades.  When they finally get the chance to marry they are overjoyed.  But their public nuptials anger the church and George loses his job.  With dwindling funds and declining health, the two must separate to temporary homes.  Love Is Strange is about their time apart and is directed by Ira Sachs with performances by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.

Sad embraceLove Is Strange is a pleasant film.  Director Ira Sachs, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mauricio Zacharias, is not interested in big displays of emotion or deeply rooted problems of the couple played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.  Both Lithgow and Molina are perfectly likable as the former tries to avoid being a hindrance on his nephew's family and the latter tolerates the energetic lifestyle of his friendly neighbors.  Everyone wants to help, there's just not enough money to go around, and simple misunderstandings are cleared up quickly.

My experience with Love Is Strange was pleasant in the same way elevator music is.  I'm constantly aware of the emotion I should be feeling.  The music puts minds in a blank spot to pass the time as the elevator goes from one floor to the next.  My mind has to fight the constant urge to slip into a waking coma during these moments.  I want to live, I don't want to spend my time contemplating a form of expression designed to silence those thoughts.

This is why I dislike Love Is Strange.  It is a movie where events certainly happen and emotions are expressed, but there's never any doubt with the bright palette and nice characters that everything is going to be ok in the end.  For a film with loose concerns of mortality and death such as this, being put in such a dulled elevator state is exactly what I shouldn't be doing.  I felt like a cow being gassed so it can accept the end of its days with ignorant bliss.

Molina's character has less straightforward problems, which makes it so frustrating that they're drowned out by the sound mixing when they're finally expressed.

Molina's character has less straightforward problems, which makes it so frustrating they're drowned out by the sound mixing when they're finally expressed.

That might seem a bit harsh for a film as innocuous as this - but as the expression goes, the devil's in the details.  Look at the color schemes which dominate the film.  George (Molina) is clad in darker, earthier tones which fit his pragmatic approach to his new marriage with Ben (Lithgow), who prefers neutral and light colors and enjoys relaxing by painting.  George and Ben enter and leave the picture the same people, despite their distance from one another, and communicate everything we need to know about them solely by clothing choice.

Good costume design is essential to creating a character but those are parts of a whole, not the sole identifying points of these people.  George and Ben are boring, their love is like any other, and they leave few marks - positive or negative - on their family.  With characters so broadly communicated I wondered if the surrounding characters would be of interest or evolve.  Kate (Marisa Tomei), despite her annoyance with Ben, also leaves Love Is Strange the same person she entered.  We learn so little about the others they might as well be props.

I struggled to watch Love Is Strange because I was gripped by that pleasant sensation of watching nice people try to get along and I felt my mind drift.  So I focused, and when I found things that weren't solely pleasant, they were just indications of poor film making.  The sound design earns special consideration for mixing voice so far behind the music it no longer matters what the characters are saying.  This is perhaps understandable in the early scenes where an emotional tone is being set, but why does the music dominate the voice-over of George reading a letter expressing his frustration toward a church who fired him because he is gay?  Sachs' direction is so dedicated to producing a pleasant film we miss one of the few interesting and conflicting moments in Love Is Strange.

Lithgow is wonderful but his side of the tale has some uneven turns with spotty performances to work with.

Lithgow is wonderful but his side of the tale has some uneven turns with spotty performers to work with.

Ben's lighter costuming influences more aspects of the production than George's.  As a result, one breezy and crisply lit scene with warm colors blends into the next.  The effect further dulls whatever minor squabble the characters are having at any particular moment.  Watch the colors, listen to the piano, and just let the pleasantness dull anything else onscreen.

There's a place for pleasant films that enter the ebb and flow of romantic life.  One of the best films of the decade, Blue is the Warmest Color, does this wonderfully.  But Sachs has to wake up his film with events so magically perfect they disrupt the stagnant environment only if you're thinking about what's going on.  If you've been dulled to sensation at this point, then Love Is Strange has worked its charm.  If not then this disruptive moment brings in every other questionable decision: the atrocious sound mixing to the consistently boring cinematography and the odd camera framing which calls attention to just how inconsequential this all is.

What really bothers me is that title.  The love I've felt has been insecure, passionate, despairing, tender, and, yes, strange.  The love of Love Is Strange is the kind two people feel when they have shared hobbies.  This is little better than waiting around and watching the clock until you die.

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Tail - Love Is StrangeLove Is Strange (2014)

Directed by Ira Sachs.
Screenplay written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias.
Starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.

Posted by Andrew

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