Film Review: Love is Strange

There’s a certain feeling of sympathy for the predicament the two main characters in Love is Strange find themselves in. George loses his job as a music teacher at a Catholic-run school when he marries his long time partner Ben. This leads to the couple losing their home and, unable to afford a place to live in New York City on Ben’s pension alone, they stay at separate friends’ houses.

The injustice faced by George for simply getting married is a constant thread throughout this film’s narrative which keeps you more or less on the divided couple’s side. But every other element of this film does its best to make you detest mild tragedy of the film’s loss of privilege theme.

A mild lack of awareness dominates this film’s themes, as its characters’ pathetically affected problems verge so far into the unremarkable that you start to question whether the story is operating on a level of irony that you can’t even fathom. It’s a Woody Allen film without the sense of humour about how ridiculous the lifestyle being portrayed is, that instead tries to script it as a tragedy.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the two lead characters have no discernible personalities. John Lithgow’s character Ben could best be described as “a pensioner”, sleeping in the day, being quietly disruptive to working people’s lives, painting. George (Alfred Molina) is even less memorable. He cries at one point because the people he’s staying with keep having friends over. The rest of his impact on this film is negligible.

You start to root for these characters to start making an actual decision, to leave the city and try to make a new start. But there is no insight on the part of these characters. The film is geared towards tragedy from the get go and damned if anything’s going to knock it off course. We’re seriously missing a look into the private sphere of these two men, any insight into what their relationship actually means. The story feels like it’s more about the loss of property than the separation of a couple.

The closing scene demonstrates just how contrived Love is Strange actually is, so consider this your spoiler alert. The last moments of the film feature the young boy who had committed the awful crime of stealing French literature in the earlier part of the film, visiting George after Ben dies. They have a moment, the boy goes down the stairs and cries in a pointlessly prolonged shot, then skateboards off with some random girl into the sunset. As tacked on endings go it’s particularly weak, but makes explicit the film’s inability to express any original ideas. In cinemas 13 February 2015. Watch the trailer here.

Stephen Murphy

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