Love Is Strange, a movie about an aging gay couple in Manhattan, is not a “gay movie.” The two protagonists are gay, but the film portrays them as an ordinary, loving, dedicated couple who endure brief separation and homelessness when the breadwinner loses his job. At least, that’s how the director, actors, and critics are describing the new film, and why they’re bristling that the MPAA rated it R.
The indie film, directed by Ira Sachs and released in select theaters, was made to be a quiet, classic love story, but with a few f-bombs and non-classic smooches. That such a film would receive the same rating as Hannibal and The Wolf of Wall Street has some critics crying “homophobia.” But cast members themselves have avoided using that loaded word, implying only that it’s silly and arcane for the motion picture association oligarchs to squirm over gay love when much of society has accepted it.
In short, Love Is Strange tries to be a “post–gay movie”—one in which this particular sinful lifestyle is unremarkable—and that makes it all the more significant and troubling, as fewer moviemakers even pay attention to the devastating difference between man’s self-justifying morals and God’s unchanging righteousness.
The plot: Semi-retired artist Ben (John Lithgow) and Catholic school music teacher George (Alfred Molina) have been together for 39 years. Then they officially marry and George’s school, which can no longer ignore his sexual orientation, fires him. After delivering the news, the principal asks if he can pray for George so he won’t question his faith. George pauses, then declines politely: “Thank you very much, Father. I still believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, but at this point I’d like to pray on my own.”
It’s with such passive resoluteness that George and Ben face the next few months. They lose their apartment, and in New York City’s brutal real estate climate they have to separate and crash with friends and family. A lonely Ben tosses on a bunk bed below his nephew’s teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan), who increasingly resents the intrusion and appears to battle his own confusion about sexuality. Meanwhile, George spends sleepless nights on the couch of two longtime friends who are coupled gay cops (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez), his bedtime invaded by frequent party guests and Game of Thrones marathons.
Most notable in Love Is Strange is what’s missing: It has no polemics, no rage against homophobic injustice, no poking about for controversy. The subtle but sinful message here is, So what if it’s homosexual love? We’re all humans with real emotions, real experiences and responses. We all recognize true love.
Over the last decade, with hits such as TV sitcom Will & Grace and epic drama Brokeback Mountain, LGBT characters have become normalized, no more flawed or moral than straight individuals. The urgency to beat viewers over the head with anti-discrimination, pro-gay themes has abated. Like Ben and George, gay characters are now sympathetic, endearing—and ordinary. Hollywood and mainstream society have been leapfrogging each other in pushing and reflecting a cultural shift toward acceptance of homosexuality, and they’re getting more skillful and subtle about it.
Love Is Strange is a reminder that almost all human beings, as creations of God, share a common grace in recognizing and desiring what is good and beautiful. We suppress the truth in unrighteousness but we can still be moved by displays of kindness, gentleness, charity, friendship, love, and all the wonderful talents of music and art. But we must also weep for our generation that is so willfully and unwittingly deceived, and a future in which a movie like Love Is Strange will no longer be rated R.