Director Ira Sachs dove into the dynamics of a rocky decade-long relationship, plagued by addiction and promiscuity, between two New York City men in Keep the Lights On.
Sachs returns with his characteristic gentle, steady touch that serves him well in the beautifully observed Love is Strange. Here, he exchanges the internal turbulence within the dysfunctional relationship in Keep the Lights On for external challenges that beset an enduring longterm relationship.
The catalyst for the low-key drama is a gay-related issue—middle-aged choir director George (Alfred Molina) is fired from his Catholic school teaching position after marrying his partner Ben (John Lithgow) of four decades, throwing them into financial woes and out of their apartment.
Yet what follows are universal themes that transcend identity. Sachs and cowriter Mauricio Zacharias explore the awkward consequences when the fine line between friendship and family is crossed, and how intimacy can survive amid the messiness of life.
In need of a place to stay while they search for a new apartment, Ben stays with his work-driven nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows) and his writer wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) while George moves in with policemen couple Roberto (Manny Perez) and Ted (Cheyenne Jackson).
Ben's presence not only exacerbates latent tensions between Elliot and Kate, but also between the two parents and their moody, loner teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan), who has developed an ambiguous friendship with another student, Vlad (Eric Tabach). Meanwhile, George has trouble adjusting to the revolving-door social life of Roberto and Ted. These new living quarters prove to be a bit too close for comfort, compounding the emotional strain that George and Ben experience in living apart for the first time in years.
The emotional truths the story elucidates are delivered with understated authenticity by the smart cast, who display a palatable chemistry. The ensemble effort achieves the rare feat of establishing gay identities within a narrative that doesn't make an issue out of that but instead makes their story ring true for everyone.
Love is Strange plays at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival on August 19 at 9:30 p.m. at International Village.