Thursday, September 11, 2014

A couple -- but not under the same roof

New York State now allows gay marriage, but there can be unanticipated consequences -- at least according to Love is Strange, a movie in which John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play a long-established Manhattan couple.

The movie begins when Molina's George and Lithgow's Ben marry after 39 years of living together. Their friends and relatives are overjoyed that the two finally can accomplish what they should long ago have been able to do.

But there's a downside. George works as a music teacher at a Catholic high school that can't abide gay marriage. The school had been willing to overlook George's sexual preferences, but now that he's tied the knot, policy demands that he be dismissed.

This sets up a situation in which the two men face economic pressures that force them to sell their apartment. They come up short on cash, unable to buy (or even rent) another place.

So George and Ben split up for what they hope is a temporary period. George moves in with two gay police officers whose lifestyle runs against his staid grain. His roommates like to party.

Ben takes up residency with a nephew (Darren Burrows) and his wife (Marisa Tomei). He's forced to share a room with the couple's teen-age son (Charlie Tahan), a kid who's none to happy about having a roommate. We feel for Geroge, no one past the age of 60 ever should have to spend a night in a bunk bed.

It seemed to me that on a purely practical level, Ben and George could have found a better solution to their problem. They're offered one living arrangement out of town, but can't abide the thought of leaving New York City.

In pushing the couple apart, director Ira Sachs creates a situation in which the movie's early joy increasingly turns to annoyance.

Ben, in particular, drives Tomei's character a little crazy. She works at home, and has difficulty abiding Ben's constant chatter. Understandably, Ben's teen-age bunkmate would like to have his room back.

Everyone in Love is Strange basically operates out of good will, but cramped living situations can tax anyone's patience.

Molina and Lithgow are entirely believable as a couple that long ago worked out the kinks in their relationship and -- if life were fair -- would be coasting comfortably toward the finish line. George still would be inspiring young people, and Ben would be continuing his career as a painter.

Sachs doesn't drown the story in sentiment, but can't entirely free the narrative of dull spots, as well as a bit of repetition.

Still, George and Ben are genuine enough to keep us interested, as evidenced by the fact that Ben's constant chattering not only taxes the nerves of his nephew's wife, but ours, as well.

In this case, that should be considered a compliment, an attempt to keep the movie from becoming nothing more than a lopsided plea for sympathy.

No comments: