Love Is Strange, film review: John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are the perfect match

(15) Dir. Ira Sachs; Starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, 94mins
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The Independent Culture

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are discussing a recital of a Wieniawski violin piece that they've attended, and George, who is a music teacher, is slightly critical: "When a piece is that romantic," he says, "there's no need to embellish." It's about the only self-conscious line of dialogue in the whole of this wonderful movie romance, which is perfectly human-scaled, and knows just how much to show and tell us, and no more, about Ben and George's life together.

In fact, it tells us about their life together by showing them living apart. After 39 years together, they get married.

Unfortunately, this makes George's job at an upscale Catholic private school suddenly untenable. They're forced to sell their Manhattan apartment, and rely on the kindness of family members and friends. Ben temporarily moves in with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows) and Elliot's wife (Marisa Tomei) and son (Charlie Tahan). He is more of an imposition than he realises. "Sometimes when you live with people," he nevertheless notices, "you know them better than you care to." George, meanwhile, stays with his former neighbours, who enjoy things – loud music and parties; Game of Thrones and role-playing games – the appeal of which is lost on him.

Love in the movies is nearly always the new and exciting kind, and rarely the 40-year-old kind shared by people who know their partners better than they know themselves. But the beauty of this latter sort is that not everything has to be explained. It's enough for us to see that Ben and George have a shared language of memories and jokes, without needing to be in on them too. And while Love Is Strange deals lightly with the kind of prejudice that, albeit indirectly, forces Ben and George apart, it also has the good grace to know how lucky they are.

It is a wry, graceful, beautifully observed late-life romance, in which seemingly small details of domestic life – and of New York's housing economy – really matter, because they matter to its characters, and its characters seem real. That might not sound like a lot, but when you've got writing and performances which are this assured and this truthful to real experience, there's no need to embellish.

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