Three Strange Love Stories
By Johnny Pomatto
THE ONE I LOVE
I wouldn’t dream of spoiling your enjoyment of THE ONE I LOVE by revealing too much about it. At the core of Charlie McDowell’s directorial debut is an incredibly simple device, but wonderfully clever and ingenious things are done with that idea, so much so that I was angry I hadn’t thought of it first. The easiest way to describe the film without giving away its surprises is this: Ethan and Sophie, (played by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, both giving exceptional performances), are having some troubles in their marriage. Their therapist, (an amusing Ted Danson), recommends that the two take a weekend away in a secluded country house to reenergize their love. Once they arrive there, some strange things begin to happen. And that’s all I’m willing to say, as I don’t want to ruin some of the truly fantastic surprises that take place in the movie. But I will say that this is one of my favorite films I’ve seen so far this year. The kind of experience that catches you completely off guard and changes the way your brain works for the rest of the day. It’s not without some rough edges, but considering Justin Lader’s screenplay is mostly used as a skeleton for improvisational dialogue, it’s incredible how well the loose style compliments the detailed, intricate structure of the plot.
The strange happenings aside, THE ONE I LOVE has a lot to say about relationships, specifically what makes us love one another, and what makes us want to stay with one another past the initial romantic courtship phase. Duplass and Moss get the chance to play a wide range of emotions and sides of love and desire, and it’s their performances that make the film. They constantly keep you guessing about what these two really want of each other. I apologize for being so vague, but I find it such a rare experience to be able to go into a film knowing so little about what to expect. Even the trailer for the film spends 2 minutes teasing you with the two stars questioning what everything happening to them means, without ever actually saying anything. I urge you to see the film for yourself and discover the fun surprises inside. It’s currently playing in select theaters but also available on demand on iTunes and Amazon. Not everyone may share my enthusiastic reaction. In fact, as I left the theater after seeing it, I overheard a woman telling her date “I’m so f—ing mad at you right now.” It’s a challenging story that may reveal things about your own relationship you’re not ready to hear, but that’s all part of the adventure of love.
LOVE IS STRANGE
A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Ira Sachs’ latest film LOVE IS STRANGE is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve seen in years, but you don’t get many sweet scenes of romance and tenderness. You have to look a little harder to find sweetness and sentimentality in this story, which shows us several scenarios where love is often overshadowed by frustration, anger, and unhappiness. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina respectively star as Ben and George, two elderly men who have been partners in love for nearly 40 years. When the two get married after New York’s legalization, George loses his job at the Catholic school he’s taught at for years, which has always accepted his orientation, to a point. Suddenly the couple is having trouble making ends meet and must sell their apartment. During the time it takes them to find a new job and place to live, Ben and George are forced to live separately, at the mercy of their accommodating family and friends who are happy to help, though none of them have the space to house both of them together. Ben sleeps in a bunk bed with his teenage great nephew, and George sleeps on the couch of two gay friends, whose lifestyle is much more active and noisier than he’s used to.
The strange love in the title doesn’t just refer to Ben and George and the obstacles they face, but all kinds of love coming from many different places. Ben’s nephew and his wife have to keep reminding themselves that they’re inconveniencing their family for the right reasons, while the teenager Ben shares a room with is going through his own confusing saga with a school friend who he may or may not be developing romantic feelings for. As the time apart starts to last longer than either expected, the two men try to hide their loneliness, while their generous hosts’ love and patience for their guests is tested. Marisa Tomei, as Ben’s nephew’s wife, begins the film holding back tears of joy while toasting the couple at their wedding, then after a few weeks of living with Ben, she finds it hard to be in the same room with him, and enduring his unending stream of questions and comments.
The film runs at a brief 95 minutes, but is very slowly paced, often taking time to watch Lithgow paint in real time or show Molina listen to songs in their entirety. And yet big, important life events are left to happen off-screen. When the two men learn they have to sell their apartment, we aren’t treated to scenes of packing up boxes or saying goodbyes. Instead, we will suddenly know that time passed by seeing Ben napping in a bunk bed. One imagines that you could fill an entire feature film with the small moments that are omitted from this one, yet the story never feels rushed and there’s a wonderful and sad sense of discovery when you realize that so many things have changed in an instant without you even knowing. Sachs has captured similar tones in earlier films such as “Forty Shades of Blue” and “Keep the Lights On,” but LOVE IS STRANGE left me weak and vulnerable in a way that few films do. Lithgow and Molina both give two of the best performances of their careers, doing very little to shed their personas you’ve come to know after their decades of great work, yet still showing so much subtle humanity that one can’t easily assign them types and roles that would help confirm expectations of where their story might go. In 95 minutes you see life pass by incredibly fast, and as I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t help lament all the little moments that were lost and wasted. This film is not what I have sometimes categorized as “tragedy porn,” in which unpleasant circumstances or intolerance unjustly comes between characters’ happiness and we are left angry for what was taken from them. This isn’t a message film with a moral about the Catholic Church being more tolerant to homosexuals. We’re simply observing some of the last chapters of a powerful love story. You needn’t focus on the unpleasantness at its end, but marvel in how love sustains the minor inconveniences that get in its way.
After the success of Michael Winterbottom’s film “The Trip,” which featured actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing themselves on a weekend getaway to eat great food and trade impressions, the three have reteamed for a follow-up adventure, and I couldn’t be more delighted. Like the first film, this comedy was cobbled together from a six episode miniseries on the BBC, but since the first film was such a success in America, there must have been great forethought in plotting the second series, knowing in advance that they’d again be shaping a film from it. The result is even better than the previous outing. Steve and Rob have changed a bit since their drive through the Lakes District. Now in Italy for a week of reviewing restaurants and seeing the sights, Steve is a bit less insecure and competitive with Rob, as he’s relieved to be off his canceled American television series and returning to England to play the role of a father again. He seems happy and at peace. He even refuses indulging in drinking wine, at least at the beginning of the film. Rob, on the other hand, is doing very well and starting to experience a bit of the kind of success that Steve is coming off of, and it’s doing wonders for his confidence. Much of the film involves him wrestling with his conscience after getting more than a little flirty with one of the pretty women he meets on his journey. Even moreso than the first film, there really seems to be a destination that the two are heading to. Of course the real highlight here is the dueling impressions that the two are so well known for. Not only do their Michael Caine’s reappear, but they also recreate several other performances from “The Dark Knight Rises,” including a debate about who is more incomprehensible, Christian Bale or Tom Hardy. The cherry on top for me was a sequence when the two expertly impersonate every actor to play James Bond. THE TRIP TO ITALY is even more fun than the first film, and I can’t wait to find out where these two are going to go next. With any luck it will be New York, just for the opportunity to hopefully tag along.