Eric and I went to see the new film, Love is Strange, yesterday. Directed by Ira Sachs, it features John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a gay couple of a certain age living in New York City. Perhaps you’ve seen the trailer or caught an interview or already viewed the film yourself. This isn’t really a review of the film, but I will probably give away a few spoilers about the movie, so if you’re super spoiler sensitive, do not read further. I will say that I’m not going to write about anything you wouldn’t have already learned by watching the actors being interviewed on The View or The Today Show.
The film opens on the day John Lithgow’s Ben and Alfred Molina’s George are getting married in an intimate ceremony, after 39 years as a couple. What happens next is that George loses his job and the couple is forced to live apart, with friends or relatives, one in Manhattan, the other in Brooklyn. This separation is the premise of the film. Okay, that’s the end of the spoilers. The movie moved both Eric and me at several points throughout the 90-some minutes. At one point, I was reduced to an audible, blubbering gasp.
After the movie, Eric and I walked to a restaurant (Islands) nearby. We sat at the bar, ordered mai-tai’s and talked about the movie. We had been back in Los Angeles less than 24 hours and it was bittersweet to revisit New York with a story about aging and financial concerns and health and love and enduring love. I kept saying how much I hated the movie, how I wanted to love it, but that I hated it. Yes, I was quite moved by some scenes, but well, I just could not believe that these two would be forced to live separate lives after 39 years together. “It’s just unrealistic,” I kept repeating. Eric agreed, perhaps mostly because I was so adamant.
And then we went home to our little home, the dogs came out to greet and welcome us. In New York, lying in our hotel bed, we conjectured, as we always do, what living in New York would be like. How expensive it would be, how Ricky would be too confrontational on the sidewalks, how smart Millie would look prancing down 5th Avenue in tweed coat during the winter. I don’t really see us moving there, our life is here, our home is here, but it’s fun to imagine another life, in a city we both love.
As we were going to bed last night, I still could not let the movie go. George and Ben would not have let themselves split up like that. They would have sold the stuff they’d collected in their 39 years together and found a sensible studio on the Upper East Side for $2000 or a one bedroom in Bay Ridge for $1600 or even rented a room in Williamsburg for $1000. Any of these scenarios would have been better than the one they opted for, the one that the writers Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias opted for. If they did that, there would be no movie, you say? Last night, as I fumed, tossing and turning, even going so far as to hop out of bed and check Manhattan and Brooklyn rental opportunities on Craig’s List, I wished that, indeed, there was no movie, that Love is Strange was a 5 minute short where Ben and George get married and Marisa Tomei gives her wedding speech and everyone drinks red wine and eats lasagna and Harriet Harris’ homemade cookies and that’s it. Roll credits.
I was still mad at Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias this morning when I woke up. How could this have happened to poor Ben and George?!? I even read the New York Times review, hoping that A.O. Scott had been as hung up on the implausibility as I was, instead I found a love letter to everyone involved, a New York Times Critics’ Pick.
And then during my morning swim, I, of course, continued to ponder Love is Strange, the scenes I loved, the scenes I hated, the characters, the ending, New York. I imagined myself having a conversation with Ira (first name basis, at this point) where I told him that if someone hates your film with this much passion, you must be doing something right. I imagined him being hurt by my words, but then later, chuckling to himself, muttering, “That guy’s got a point.”
And then somewhere before my last lap, I realized why I hated Love is Strange so much. It wasn’t the implausibility that burrowed into me, in fact, it was the opposite. I watched my biggest fears: becoming homeless, rudderless, partner-less, play out on screen and it was just too much for me to wrap my head around. It was just, all of it, too much.
In all the time I kept thinking, how can I save Ben and George, I was really thinking, how can I save Ray and Eric? What can I do to ensure a peaceful 30 or 40 (or 50?) more years? The answer is, of course, there are no insurances. We live our lives, try to make good decisions and hope for a little luck.
But from Love is Strange and Ira and Mauricio, John and Alfred, I am reminded of the importance of enjoying the music and the art and most important, the ones that you love, because all of this, like a lazy stroll in a leafy park, or celebratory meal with friends, or a sunset on the Manhattan skyline, is fleeting.