This is a movie about people, not social issues.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) have been a couple for decades. Love is Strange begins on the day when they formalize their union with a wedding. There's a nice ceremony outdoors followed by a party. Along the way we see Ben and George both blissed out and bickering, like couples do. All is well.

Then something wonky happens. Marriage equality may be the law in New York, but the church where George works does not like it when one of its employees makes a public acknowledgment that differs from their official policies. George is sacked for violating his contract. The sudden financial blow is crippling to the couple — the loss of income forces them to sell their co-op and move in with loved ones until they can find an affordable place to live. Alas, space is at a premium in NYC and the couple has no other choice but to stay in two separate homes.

What you need to know: First, the film is not primarily about being gay. Second, you're not the only one who thinks the notion that the husbands cannot find anyone with room for both of them is a stretch. The point of the plot mechanics is to separate the men so that we watch what happens when loved ones are apart, when each of their daily routines is radically disrupted, when the new living situations put a strain on them and their benefactors.

The transition appears slightly less taxing for George, who crashes on the couch of two former neighbors, police officers Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez). Impromptu parties are common at the active couple's place, which is a shock to George, who is used to a relaxed home life of reading and listening to Chopin. He is lonely, but at least the mood is upbeat.

Ben lands in the Brooklyn apartment of his nephew, Elliot (Darren Burrows), his wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan), with whom he shares a bunk bed. There's a lot of tension in the place. Kate is a writer who requires silence to work. She clearly finds Ben's chattiness grating. Elliot is absent a lot, often while at home. Joey, who appreciates having an aged relative sleeping in his room exactly as much as you would expect, has issues. Resentment towards the family, possible involvement with some stealing, and a friendship with a kid named Vlad (Eric Tabach) that makes you wonder what they're really doing. Ben must navigate through all of that daily, while dealing with his loneliness as well.

It's all beautifully acted, particularly by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, with scenes accented mostly by Chopin piano pieces. So to what does the title of the film refer? Not the same-sex marriage, I think. Writer-director Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias' focus is on how we behave when interacting with those we love, which can get mighty strange. Theirs is a film of the moments between the grand gestures, of the negotiations and compromises of families, both traditional and extended. Love is Strange is lovely, painful and universal.



The Skeleton Twins

★★★1/2 (out of five)

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, two of SNL's finest graduates, are so good that they triumph over the heavy-handedness of the movie. Siblings Milo (Hader) and Maggie (Wiig) independently plan to kill themselves. Milo makes the attempt, Maggie is interrupted by news of Milo's action. Maggie invites Milo to come stay with her and her hubby, Lance (Luke Wilson at his best) in New York while they try to fix what ails them. It's not easy. Milo soon hooks up with an ex (Ty Burrell) and Maggie cheats with a swim instructor (Boyd Holbrook). Bad news relationships are just part of their problems, but never mind — just savor Hader and Wiig.

The Song


Jed King (Alan Powell, lead singer of the Christian band Anthem Lights) recites The Song of Solomon periodically in voiceovers of this faith-based film. Jed is a struggling singer-songwriter – the son of a country music legend – who hits it big with "The Song," a tune he wrote for his wife Rose (Ali Faulkner). Stardom! Touring! What could possibly go wrong? Caitlin Nicol-Thomas from Nashville plays the fellow performer who leadeth Jed into temptation. Will Jed succumb? Will he find salvation? Go figure. For a formula film, this isn't bad. Just achingly predictable, which is likely what its target audience wants most of all.


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.

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