You could be forgiven, after watching the opening minutes of Ira Sachs's fine-grained and flinty Love Is Strange, for thinking it's going to be a movie about Gay Marriage, with all the import those initial caps imply. We see two older men, clearly a couple, roll out of bed in what is immediately identifiable as a Manhattan apartment. Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) put on suits and then bicker, right on the street, in the most New York of ways: "I knew we should have hired a car." This is how marriages begin between partners who have known each other forever. Mazel tov! Sachs has made a movie that's both more broadly and more specifically about love, New York, and real estate, perhaps not even in that order: It's about things that actually matter in life and in a partnership, including the debit column in the checkbook.
Ben and George don't fight about money, but money has torn a hole in their lives. They live apart, briefly, while searching for a cheaper apartment, and it's in their isolation that Sachs captures the texture of their partnership. Molina and Lithgow, in performances that rank among the best of their careers, fill in the colors and shadows. At one point, Ben and George dress up and go out on a date. In the course of this evening, they have a disarmingly direct and tender conversation about infidelity, unlike anything I've ever heard in a movie. Sachs and his performers know that the perfect marriage is a thing of phantom beauty -- it doesn't exist, yet we persist in believing someone out there must have it.