Nearly 90 minutes into Love Is Strange, perhaps the gentlest film of the year, a young man, skateboard in hand, is descending stairs in an apartment building. He comes to an abrupt stop in the stairwell as if a ghost had suddenly pinned him in place. He slowly bows his head, and begins to cry. The single-shot scene with no cutaways is two minutes long--an eternity in contemporary filmmaking--during which a piano plays Chopin's "Nocturne No. 5 in F Sharp Major." It is a stunning, intimate achievement, allowing ample time for viewers' waves of emotions to ebb and flow.
Emotions do flow through Love Is Strange. It's never exploitive or manipulative, and instead affords its audience great care and respect. This film's themes of same-sex marriage and economic volatility are ripped from the headlines and such themes are quite often portrayed on film with, well, volatility. But Love Is Strange assumes its audience is compassionate, engaged and literate. Not once do director Ira Sachs or stars John Lithgow and Alfred Molina slip into a syrupy chiding of society's shortcomings.
"It's a long story. It starts with me marrying my partner of 39 years and then being fired from my job," George (Molina) tells a half-interested man when asked how he and his husband Ben (Lithgow) became involuntarily separated. "I don't want to bore you with all the details."
Boring? Never. Important? Of course. Marvelous filmmaking? Absolutely.
Lithgow and Molina, who seamlessly transition between stage and screen, are two of the best of their generation and are at the top of their game here. When their characters are forced to sell their house because of lost income and health benefits, their story becomes instantly familiar. Ben and George are forced to turn to friends and family for places to stay, and end up sleeping on couches or in bunk beds miles from one another--neither man's family has room for both of them--and they are thrown into the social hurricanes of domestic squabbles when they become unwitting witnesses to their families' respective dramas.
In this measured and respectful story, we are asked to examine how economic circumstances can force us to surrender our sense of self. And when we impose on our friends and family, such awkward circumstances can permanently compromise those relationships. Ultimately, Love Is Strange is a beautiful film that will occupy a piece of your heart long after its visit to Boise, which begins Friday, Oct. 3.
On the other hand, Gone Girl, which also opens Oct. 3, might well have co-opted the Love Is Strange title. The love examined in Gone Girl is exceptionally strange in director David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel of the same name.
For a while in 2012, I was under the assumption that nearly everyone in the U.S. was carrying around a copy of the thriller, and it was easy to imagine no one was unaware of the surprise twists and turns in this story of a marriage that has gone exceedingly bad. But being a proper cinematic citizen, no worries here, dear reader: no spoilers ahead.
In Gone Girl, the marriage of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike in her best work to date) has suffered because of job instability and family crises. When Amy disappears, Nick becomes the prime suspect.
Nick's psychological tug-of-war with police and media consumes much of the movie's first half... and that's all you get, folks. 20th Century Fox would have my hide if I gave away any more of Gone Girl.
This is not one of the best movies of the year, but it is worth the price of admission. I'm a fan of Fincher, who has pulled down best director Oscar nominations for The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; but with Gone Girl, Fincher has us strapped in so tight, that it's often difficult to enjoy what should be a wickedly macabre funhouse ride.