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As part of Novastream’s coverage of the Sydney Film Festival, Mark takes a look at Love is Strange. 

Love is Strange is a romantic dramedy starring John Lithgow (Terms of Endearment, Shrek) and Alfred Molina (Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spider-Man 2) as Ben and George, lovers of nearly forty years that are temporarily forced to live in the homes of separate different extended family. It debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and capitalises on its plot points with stops at the Toronto InsideOut Festival on its progressive trip around the world.

The plot’s authenticity is a strong point. After tying the knot George is promptly fired from his position at Catholic school and unable to make do, the pair resolves to sell their apartment only to discover they cannot reap the profits for up to six months. As such the homeless couple are forced to crash with their relatives – George with a boisterous same sex couple and Ben with his workaholic nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), Elliot’s stay-at-home author wife Kate (Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan). Their close proximity creates the film’s conflict, with Ben generally getting in the way of Kate and Joey’s normal life and in particular Joey’s new relationship with Vlad (Eric Trabach).

The execution is fragmented with the majority of focus on Ben and very little on George. The script attempts to follow both stories but all the interesting characters are in Ben’s apartment so it feels very forced to switch back to George.

This is dragged down further by the worst score I have ever endured. A pretentious extended violin or piano sequence would be shoved in between two scenes that would have been better without. In the opening scenes it was boorish but by the end, after the fifth example, it was like nails down a chalkboard. There was rarely visual stimulation to distract the audience either. The movie was shaky to begin with but that score transformed it into a less than enjoyable experience.

The performances were all solid but it felt as if everybody was going through the motions rather than committing to exceptional film, except Tomei, who implied a deal of depth to a flimsy character. Molina does well with what he is given but is ushered away most of the time in favour of awkward moments in the other apartment while Trabach continually peaked my attention. By the time the credits have rolled Lithgow and Tahan have embraced their roles but it’s a long time coming considering they are the relationship given the most screen time.

The films continues to give off the aura it is more than it is by choosing odd but not abstract shots and lingering the lens to add misplaced gravity. There’s some bright sparks in this method with an extended conversation between Ben and George as they move further away from the camera over two minutes standing out. There are also seriously flawed moments where Joey breaks down in grief, a character catharsis, placed in an extended shot that feels very unintentionally uncomfortable.

Love Is Strange is an okay film puffing out its chest to look bigger than it is. If you can endure the terrible musical pieces throughout and attach with any of the characters there is a decent story to be told. Maybe take some ear plugs?

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Mark Halyday

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