'Love Is Strange' — And Funny, Hard And Heart-Breaking

Love is Strange stars John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple whose marriage, after 39 years together, is the start of a very complicated story.

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And this late in August, Hollywood summer blockbusters are mostly played out which means there's room at the Cineplex for more thoughtful movies. Critic Bob Mondello says "Love Is Strange" qualifies - a film that takes seriously the wedding vow phrase, for better or for worse.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: When we meet Ben and George, they have been together longer than they have been a part - 39 years. And you can see they're in love as they prepare for their big day - the wedding they never dreamed possible when they met. It's in a New York City park where they're surrounded, as the pastor notes, by a lifetime's worth of friends.


JASON STUART: (As Officiant) For everybody who's here, I'd like to ask of you if you would commit to honor and support these two individuals and their love and their life and in their marriage together?


MONDELLO: Those shouted vows will be tested more quickly than the ones taken a moment later by John Lithgow's Ben and Alfred Molina's George. George works as choir director at a Catholic school. And almost as soon as he gets back to work...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) The bishop wasn't happy.

MONDELLO: ...He's told he's being let go.


ALFRED MOLINA: (As George) And what about the students? I've known them since they were kids - and their parents. They've been to my house. They've played on my piano. They've sung with Ben and me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) The decision is effective immediately.

MONDELLO: With George now unemployed and Ben on Social Security, they can't keep up mortgage payments or qualify for a rental. In short order, they have to go back, hat in hand, to those friends who were so supportive at the wedding.


MOLINA: (As George) Now we invited you all here today because, well, you're family.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Are you telling us you're getting divorced already?


MOLINA: (As George) We have to sell the apartment. And we found a buyer already. So pretty soon we're going to have to move out. Now it won't be long before I get another job. And it shouldn't be long before we find another apartment. But in the meantime...

LITHGOW: (As Ben) It's just a transition phase. Probably just a week or two.

MOLINA: (As George) We need a place to stay.

MONDELLO: The friends want to help, but this is New York. Space is tight. Ben ends up on a bunk bed in his 15-year-old grandnephew's room, George on a living room couch many blocks away - a solution of sorts. But days stretch to weeks - lifestyles clash.


LITHGOW: (As Ben) Someone's just turned up with a bloody baby.

MONDELLO: Everyone chafes.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Character) Uncle Ben, my friend is here. We need to work on a school presentation.

MONDELLO: And the elderly couple who'd been so happy together for so long find themselves separate and alone, though as Ben notes, at one point, sort of surrounded by intimacy.


LITHGOW: (As Ben) When you live with people, you know them better than you care to.

MONDELLO: Working with the situation that sounds almost sitcom-ish - after 39 years together, 10 minutes married and the whole thing comes apart - director Ira Sachs conjures a quietly affecting love story - two men differing in age and accent and temperament showing us their relationship mostly through interactions with other people, which must've been tricky, though John Lithgow and Alfred Molina make it natural - no histrionics, only a few tears, quite a bit of humor, really. The title gets it just right - "Love Is Strange," and it'll break your heart. I'm Bob Mondello.

VIGELAND: And Monday on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Alfred Molina and John Lithgow will talk with Melissa Block about bringing this love story to the screen.

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