Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Yes, LOVE IS STRANGE

The touching, tender and timely story, LOVE IS STRANGE, got rated R.  We meet a gay male couple in New York City forced to find a new place to live when one loses his job in a city stricken with wildly escalating rents and housing prices.  This happens after Ben and George gather some family and friends together for their wedding.  Alfred Molina (George) and John Lithgow (Ben) are very much in love.  And they've been together for 39 years.
The sexiest thing you see in this film is a shirtless John Lithgow as Ben the artist.
Why did this poignant film receive the R rating?  Because of...language.  In the last 15 minutes of the movie, the gay married couple laughs over drinks in a local bar and recounts an event from decades earlier.  The two called some of the characters involved "...crazy motherfu**ers."  You hear that term three times.  You can hear that same kind of language from groups of high schoolers on the streets when classes are done for the day.  Love Is Strange deserved nothing more severe than a PG-13.  Or did the ratings board slap an R on this film because it's about a gay married couple?
In Love Is Strange, we see mostly upscale New Yorkers in Greenwich Village.  George and Ben have the kind of relatives and friends who'd use their big PBS tote bags to carry home groceries they'd purchased at Whole Foods.  But the dramatic wrench thrown into George and Ben's life is something that mainstream working class viewers can connect to because it's happening all over.  I know.  I lost my job, then lost my apartment.  I had to move in with relatives.  George was a music teacher at a Catholic school.  Corporate Catholicism and archaic views cut the good teacher away from his steady income.  The archdiocese has no problem with him being gay.  It has a problem with him being open about it and committing in a ceremony to the man he loves.  After years of fine service and contributing to the community, George gets fired by a priest.  Wow.  Would Jesus have fired him?

We're in a Recession.  George and Ben are an older couple.  Now they need a place to live while George hunts for a new job and while they sell their apartment for income.  They must separate and each live with different relatives or friends until they can get their own place again.  Some situations provide nice light comedy.  Others break your heart.  You care about George and Ben so much due to the extraordinary acting from Lithgow and Molina.  They truly seem like a couple that's been together happily for nearly 40 years.  These two loving individuals have grown into one unit over the years and to see them endure the separation, to see them work around it and remain a couple shows you that the title is accurate -- love is strange.  And powerful.

George lives with two young cops -- another gay male couple.  Ben lives with his nephew, a straight married family man.  His novelist wife, played by Marisa Tomei, gave a gushy and long toast (in which she reminds all that she's a novelist) at George and Ben's wedding reception.  She's not exactly gushy about having Ben live with them.  She's not mean.  She just likes the same predictable home life -- a daily life that's like a beige piece of linen. Something that doesn't wrinkle.  Ben is sweetly chatty and has a healthy appetite.  Ben's nephew has no problem with this.  The novelist wife sees Ben as a wrinkle, an inconvenience.  Yet she is younger.  She and her husband have their jobs and their own place.  As a novelist, she's blind to seeing the experience as inspiration, a window into a human condition that could illuminate her future writing.


The bar scene, sort of a date night for the separated George and Ben, is golden.  After all those years, after that major life disappointment, they can still laugh, love and discover new things about each other.
And this is the scene that got Love Is Strange an R rating.  Ain't THAT a motherfu**er.

If, last month, Love Is Strange had brought John Lithgow his third Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, I'd have cheered.  I would not been alone.  If it had brought Alfred Molina his first Oscar nomination, I'd have shouted "It's about time!"  He's never been an Oscar nominee.  That's hard to believe when you've seen his work as the under-appreciated partner to a sexually and artistically popular young British playwright in Prick Up Your Ears (1987), as Diego opposite Salma Hayek in the Frida Kahlo biopic, Frida (2002) and as the father to Carey Mulligan's character in An Education (2009).

I saw this on the big screen last year when critics loved the movie and hated the rating it got.  I loved the movie too.  I saw it again last weekend on DVD.  It touched me even more.  I shed a few tears thinking of much I still miss my late partner.  Love Is Strange director and writer, Ira Sachs, gave us a fine piece of work, free of stereotypes and full of heart.  If you're a classic film fan, Love Is Strange has echoes of Leo McCarey's 1937 masterpiece, Make Way For Tomorrow.  In that, an older couple is broke. Husband and wife lose their home.  None of their five adult kids, who are comfortable, will take them in together.  Mom and Dad must separate and live with a child while senior Dad attempts to re-enter the workforce.  It's also on DVD.
As for movie ratings, I have another recommendation for you.  The revealing and highly entertaining 2006 documentary by Kirby Dick.  He is one of the many frustrated filmmakers who wants to know who the members of the ratings board are and how they rate films the way they do.  Why does it seem that a semi-naked woman being chased in the woods by a crazy man with a hatchet is a PG-13 movie, but a happy mother breastfeeding her newborn child onscreen in a drama lands an R rating?  Is there some sort of sexist, homophobic vibe going on in Hollywood's ratings committee?  Who are the mysterious board members making ratings decisions?  Kirby Dick hires a lesbian private detective to get on the case.  She is a fabulous character. Check out Dick's documentary THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED.
Several frustrated and noted film directors, actors and movie critics vent in this documentary.  If you see it, you won't be surprised at the injustice of Love Is Strange getting an R rating.

2 comments:

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  2. As a couple, Lithgow and Molina are flawless. It's like watching your own grandparents, who are still madly in love after decades together.

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