There are many reasons to praise Ira Sachs’ Love Is Strange, not least of which are its performances by John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei. Lithgow and Molina play a recently married couple forced to sell their New York City apartment after Molina’s character is fired from his job as a music teacher at a local Catholic school. Tomei plays the niece who puts Lithgow up while the men look for a new home. All three actors turn in top-notch work here, and their scenes are sensitively observed; late in the film Lithgow and Molina have a scene at a bar, where they drink and laugh and hash over old infidelities and indiscretions, that’s better than roughly 90% of anything else I saw at the movies this year. In other scenes, and in its plotting generally, the film feels slacker (there’s a subplot involving Tomei’s teenage son’s relationship with a mysterious school friend that never feels satisfactorily resolved). On the whole, though, Love Is Strange is lovely and wise, and as perceptive about things like love and long-term relationships as it is about New York real estate. I missed Sachs’ previous feature from a few years ago, Keep the Lights On, but based on this film alone I’d say that he ranks with Andrew Haigh and Travis Mathews as one of the most interesting of the new gay auteurs.
Steven Knight’s Locke—which, like Love Is Strange, came out last summer and is now on video—is somewhat less successful. It stars Tom Hardy as a Welsh construction foreman who, over the course of a ninety-minute car ride, takes a series of increasingly fraught calls from his co-workers, his wife, his children, and his lover, who is pregnant with his child and has begun to go into labor. Hardy’s performance is impressive and the conceit is a clever one (the film takes place in real time and never leaves the space of the car). I wish, though, that Knight had hitched them to a better story. In the end, it’s become an utterly banal quest narrative in which Our Hero loses everything but is rewarded with hope and rebirth. I don’t mind the idea of being trapped in a car with a single character for the duration of a film, but Locke made me want to get out.