Ira Sachs‘ Love Is Strange (Sony Classics, 8.22) is a bittersweet, sluggish, mild-mannered tale about an older gay couple, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), facing financial hardship and having to give up their condo and temporarily move in with friends. It’s all because they’ve recently married and George, a Catholic school music teacher, has been canned by the Archdiocese for the usual homophobic reasons. Right away I asked myself, “They didn’t see this coming? They didn’t even suspect that the Catholic elders might react this way?” Not very bright if you ask me. It’s great to get openly married and wave your flag but what idiot would do this knowing that it might lead to getting whacked? My second thought was, “They can’t they fight this in court? Doesn’t George have an extremely strong discrimination case against the Archdiocese? What are they gonna do, take this lying down?”
They take it lying down, all right. Sachs doesn’t want any blame-gaming or court battles. His film is mostly about coping and weary resignation. Sachs is interested in the humiliating process of leaning on friends and family and having to make do with less, and in basically going down the drain with dignity. The film’s slogan, if you want to give it one, is “life sure gets hard when you lose your home but at least we love each other and our extended families are helping but whoa, what a way to wrap things up.” Love Is Strange is nothing if not kindly, perceptive and compassionate, and there’s no faulting Lithgow and Molina’s performances. They know exactly what they’re doing and how to make many (okay, more than a few) of their scenes turn the key and flip the lock. But let no one doubt that Sachs has made a very low-key, occasionally quite trying film. I didn’t hate it but I checked my watch at least six or seven times.
All to say that it’s ludicrous for a film this gentle and caring and boring to get an R rating because of a few no-big-deal vulgar words. Yesterday Newark Star-Ledger critic Stephen Whitty called out the MPAA for basically being homophobic, and of course he’s right in a deep-down sense. “Not only is there nothing violent in Love Is Strange,” he writes, “[but] there’s not even anything explicit. It is about as mild and mainstream a portrayal of gay life as you can imagine.”
The R rating doesn’t really matter as no self-respecting teenager (gay or straight) would want to see a film this sleepy and older-guyish, but it seems a shame that the MPAA would want to give this little film a hard time. We all know that the staunchly whitebread, notoriously out-to-lunch MPAA ratings board gives PG-13 passes to all kinds of violent icky crap, and here they are singling out poor little Love Is Strange. But like I said, it won’t affect the box-office one iota.