Stars: Alfred Molina, John Lithgow, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez, Eric Tabash, Darren Burrows
Directed By: Ira Sachs
This might be an unpopular opinion review, as well as a little bit spoilery. Actually, there will be spoilers, because some of my biggest problems with the film lie in spoiler filled territory.
I haven’t seen any of Ira Sachs’s previous efforts, but after seeing this, I would say he’s a mediocre talent that lacks the finesse to be a breakout director. He was handed what could have been a masterpiece, and instead decided to take the “slice of life” factor seriously. We are given very little drama, and the actors are given very little meat to work with.
Immediately after watching this film, I tried to explain it to someone over the phone, and the best way I could describe it was to say that great actors often don’t actually need direction. That’s why Love Is Strange is getting such amazing reviews, is because for the moments they are given, Lithgow and Molina are amazing. This might be Alfred Molina’s best performance. It’s funny how these actors truly feel like an old married couple, but you know they are actors trapped within a dull script, and directed by someone who just likes to sit back and watch.
Sure, you can capture the great moments that Lithgow and Molina have, but that doesn’t make you a great director. Your choices to cut away in moments, and not show us meatier pieces feel like a disservice to your talented cast. The wedding scene was disappointing, because I felt these couples should have had more than “are you making this decision of your own free will?” Even if your plan was not to show us the kiss, show us the vows, or something. The wedding was an opportunity missed for us to instantly see the love between these two men, that we really don’t feel until later in the film. You don’t realize how much these two love each other until, arguably, the bunk bed scene, which comes too late.
Cutting away from the fall, or not showing us someone finding Ben feels like a missed opportunity. We didn’t get the conversation between George and Ben that George had lost his job. We get the B-list conversation with their friends about how they are moving. We didn’t get Ben’s death, George’s reaction, the funeral, or any other logical scene. Instead, we got a long shot at a subway, and then a huge time leap forward. I say huge, because Joey (Tahan) already has a girlfriend in this scene. I think we were led to believe that Ben died after that subway shot, and a funeral takes a week (maybe). So how long did it take Joey to see George? George is already fully moved in. Did we really lose six months or so of time?
I feel like the filmmaker wanted to show us an extraordinary relationship put through an extraordinary circumstance, but instead we were shown what could have been extraordinary, had we not spent so much time on mundane. Because of this, the film seemed to just drag along, and just when you think something good was going to finally happen, we’d leap forward in time. You cheated your audience, and you cheated your actors out of compelling scenes.
One of my favorite scenes in film, ever, is the scene in Love Actually where Emma Thompson realizes that the necklace she found isn’t for her. For me, that scene makes the whole movie. It’s a quiet scene, and I can’t imagine that film without it. I feel like this movie was missing that scene in several places. A nice place to reflect on the moment, and reflect on what’s actually happening. We got all the in-between stuff, but all the moments are gone.
The best moment, and rather the only good moment, is the bunk bed scene, where George and Ben finally have a real moment, and we see that these two still deeply care for each other after forty years. Sometimes you just assume that the spark has died after that long, but these two are still madly in love, which seemed hidden from us for the entire film. Sure, we get glimpses, but nothing substantial. Lithgow and Molina did so much with so little that they deserve an award simply for making the best out of a poor situation.
I’d feel bad giving this film a disturbingly low score, because I really thought that what those two (and to some extent Tomei and Tahan) did with the material presented was nothing short of a masterclass on acting. I’d been looking forward to this film for a long time, and I think as a film that it disappoints. There’s also nothing strange about this relationship, so I don’t understand the title. These are two men, of virtually the same age, who are in love. What is strange about that?
I’d still say see this movie because Lithgow and Molina’s work demands to be enjoyed. Prepare to be frustrated with a director who was in over his head from the very beginning. For acting alone, I’d give this an A, but the film itself is probably a C- film.
FINAL GRADE: B-