Love is Strange
In Love is Strange, director Ira Sachs has at once written a love letter to lower Manhattan and also exposed its economically demanding realities. Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are caught in the middle of this beautifully rendered predicament. They’ve spent 39 years together and have just gotten married, but this announcement forces the Catholic school where George teaches choir to fire him. The couple has to sell their ornately dressed West Village apartment and start desperately house hunting. In the meantime, they need somewhere to live.
This doesn’t seem like a large burden considering most of Ben’s family lives nearby in the city. But Sachs has made a delicate drama that seizes upon the subtleties of acclimatizing to new roommates. Ben moves in with his nephew (Darren E. Burrows), nephew’s wife (Maris Tomei), and their teenage son (Charlie Tahan), with whom he shares a bunk bed. George gets a stricter punishment, shacking up with a gay cop friend and his boyfriend. They’re significantly younger and throw weekly parties with loud music and kinetic energy.
Eventually these temporary living stations feel like places of solitary confinement. Things start to boil over. Sachs even throws in a teakettle whistling to hammer home the point. Ben’s presence and mindless chatting become quick annoyances and George struggles with apartment searching by himself, surviving by giving private music lessons to students. The tension lies in things unspoken. It’s clear that these men’s families and friends love them, but showing it beyond the length of a dinner party becomes a severely challenging chore.
The irony here is that two men have been married and they can’t sleep in the same house, let alone bed. Sachs doesn’t create a harsh tone of family disintegration though. The film is slow burned in a crockpot. It’s clever and patient and makes these qualities necessary to deliver its sweet and tender sendoff. There’s a lot of holding hands, looking into eyes, laughing, yelling, and thinking. It’s hard to get pacing just right with all of these emotions, but every stride is even here. That’s because Lithgow and Molina are so perfectly tethered to each other. It feels like they’ve actually been together for 39 years. It’s the greatest gift to a director. Sachs just has to roll tape.
Two older men are also the subjects of Land Ho!, a buddy road comedy teeming with an irresistible charm. The men are Mitchell (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), brothers-in-law whose former wives were sisters. Mitchell, a Kentucky doctor with a baritone southern drawl, is a widower while Colin, a retiree from Australia, is recently divorced. To alleviate their isolated lives, Mitchell buys two tickets to Iceland and the spiritual shenanigans begin.
Mitchell pays for the entire trip and Colin obliges to tag along, playing sidekick to nights out on the small Icelandic town. Mitchell’s lexicon belongs to the generation before him. He still calls women “broads” and his misogynist tone provides most of the silly humor in that “shucks he’s just an old man” forgiving manner. Colin usually plays the audience’s surrogate in these situations, laughing while shaking his head. It’s almost a senior citizen version of Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, which featured Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon conversing mindlessly, at times solemnly, throughout Great Britain’s landscapes.
Land Ho! carries a similar sensibility. Directors Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens film this feature like it’s their first time in Iceland, too. A lot of the movie is observing the country’s calm, chilly atmosphere. The camera pans and panders to the scenery, to the geysers, hot springs, mountains, cliffs and seas the men hike and Hummer through. The concept is so simple and inviting, but the movie’s protagonists provide its glow. They smoke pot, get drunk, and get lost. Their conversations revolve around movie references and occasionally become more reflective.
A lot of times, Land Ho! feels like it belongs in the1980s. Pink graphics display city names and musical interludes that break up conversations have loud drum hits and synthesizers, like the score from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. This is the movie John Hughes would have made about old men living it up one last time. Narrative cohesion isn’t this movie’s priority, as well it shouldn’t be. It’s more a travelogue ruminating about the past, about what could have been, about sharing a current experience. At one point Mitchell meets a couple on their honeymoon and advises them. “Don’t let the sun rise or fall on problems you’ll have,” he says. It’s a clear and honest moment in a clear and honest movie.
Toni Collette plays Ellie Klug, a music critic at a transitioning Seattle-based rock magazine. She’s been in a writing funk lately and has a problem sleeping with small time band members she locks eyes with at local concerts. Her emotional baggage stems from her former boyfriend Matthew Smith, a Kurt Cobain-like figure who left an indelible mark with his music and with his mysterious disappearance. She’s still hung over from their relationship and her home is a cluttered repository of old records and stagnant memories. So when Ellie’s boss (Oliver Platt) gives her an assignment to track down Matthew for the tenth anniversary of his vanishing, she has a chance to revitalize her career and gain some closure.
Lucky Them is rising indie director Megan Griffith’s fourth feature film and she’s found a welcome mix of humor and drama with it. The story is loosely based on actor/writer Emily Wachtel, who helped pen the screenplay with Huck Botko. It’s propelled forward because it never doddles too long in Ellie’s extraneous relationships and winding search. Part of the reason is her road companion, played by Thomas Hayden Church. He’s a guilty rich, and comically decides to make a documentary of Ellie’s intermittent road trips in an RV he’s rented for a hobby. He’s dressed like a scholar, wearing professor’s glasses, and injects obvious filmmaking vocabulary as though it were a foreign language. He records the moving scenery with his handheld camera and explains to Ellie in deadpan that he’s taking “B-Roll.” Griffiths wittily takes his lead and shoots her own B-Roll right after.
Some of the film’s problems are matters of characters. Ellie falls for a heartthrob guitarist (Ryan Eggold) conducting an interview and their romance drags on into a dead end. It’s an aesthetically pleasing distraction from the task at hand. But Griffiths has found a talented cast, especially in Nina Arianda, playing Ellie’s friend and bartender. Arianda, engaging already this year in Rob the Mob, makes the cliché supportive friend somebody we might consider caring about more. She knocks sense into Ellie, exposing her nostalgic frenzy. We all have our Matthew Smiths she suggests, and we all have to move on from them. Ellie is just lucky enough to have a job where she can cathartically write about this realization.