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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Over the Gay Rainbow

Love Is Strange

Plot Overview

To some gentle Chopin piano music, “Love Is Strange” opens on multiple masculine bare feet tangled in knotted bed sheets. Yes, today is the day (“Fantastique! both of you”). I don't mean to sound indelicate, but feet are the fag end of the body, and this is an artsy film, and this pun is suggested in it right away: a couple of fags are tying the knot today. As they go about their morning ablutions we notice erotic paintings on the walls. Those of us who are disgusted with queer content can mask our homo­phobia with our disgust of erotica in general, or maybe we're not even homo­phobic at all, just disgusted. But the show goes on. One says to the other, “Back before 1:30” when he's “got the papers.”

There is another set of papers, though, the “Christian witness state­ment” that George (Alfred Molina) signed (“You signed it when you took this job”) to take a position as teacher at Saint Grace Academy. Once he announced his engage­ment to Ben (John Lithgow), the stuff hit the fan (“The Bishop wasn't happy.”) Now that they're married, George has been terminated, “effective immediately.” Unfortunately, this pair who've been living together nigh on forty years, in the same apartment for twenty, hadn't managed their business affairs so well; they need to sell their apartment to find a more afford­able living arrange­ment (“It won't be long before I get another job. It's only temporary.”) Their friends and family who supported their marriage do their best. George stays on the couch of the two gay cops Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) & Roberto (Manny Perez) down­stairs. Ben bunks with Joey (Charlie Tahan) the teenage son of Ben's nephew Elliott (Darren Burrows) and Elliott's wife Kate (Marisa Tomei).

George composes a “Dear parents” letter to the Saint Grace community outlining “my joyful news and my sad news,” explaining why he will “no longer teach music at Saint Grace's.” “Ben,” he writes, “was my life­long partner.” He goes on to reference Saint Paul's letter to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor. 13:6): “Love does not delight in injustice but rejoices in the truth.” I believe Paul was addressing broader iniquities than some limited scope of reputed injustice, but since I've been given a pass on any homo­phobia I may or may not have, I'm going to like­wise refrain from judging any­one's incomplete under­standing of Paul. This is, after all, an artsy movie, not one to take sides on a contro­ver­sial issue.

The wedding itself was conducted “in the presence of these witnesses for the purpose of uniting in matri­mony these two men, George and Ben.” The official did “ask you to commit, honor, and support their marriage together.” This film defuses the same-sex marriage issue by displaying a couple other marriages: the marriage of surfing and skating in the skate­board the boy of 16, Joey's fellow student Vlad (Eric Tabach), holds in Ben's painting of him; and the marriage of wind and waves in the sport of wind­sur­fing the girl practices whom Joey has a crush on. The shaky social engineering of same-sex marriage is intimated when George doesn't let poor engineering stop him from climbing down from the top bunk to the bottom to be with Ben, in a bed that wasn't designed for the weight. The violation of the natural order of things in same-sex marriage is intimated when George castigates his young female pupil for her inter­pre­tation of Chopin, going so far as to snap his fingers mimicking a metro­nome, seeming to say that marriage is a point ("snap") in the life-birth-death cycle that shouldn't be tampered with (“You can't just create your own rhythm to Chopin,”) although the student looked like she was of a mind to play the music her way anyway.

The word matrimony that was applied to George and Ben comes from a Latin root mater meaning mother, and mony meaning state of; matrimony being the state in which it is permitted for a woman to enter mother­hood. There were not women entering matrimony here, just a couple of husbands, but this artsy movie finds them, in two places: necessity being the mother of invention, George seeks to find him­self a rent-controlled apartment through his contacts in the homo­sexual com­munity; and Ben moving in with family finds him­self in the midst of the mother of all family feuds, not a good place to be for a man of seventy-one with a heart condition. The tone of this non-judg­mental movie, especially with the letter to the parents, is that of a warning that homo­sexual couples with disposable income—especially if they have two sources of income and no children—might be better off just managing their resources well rather than relying on a silver bullet of same-sex marriage to give them a happy life together.


There's a rooftop scene in which Ben is painting a picture of Vlad standing there holding his skate­board. Joey opens the door to spy his friend wasting his after­noon posing, and he remarks, “That's so gay!” Kate has to explain youth lingo to Ben: “He doesn't mean homo­sexual, Uncle Ben, he just means stupid.” As in a stupid waste of time. “Joey got very upset,” she'll later recount to her husband. “Kids have expanded the meaning of gay beyond sexual orientation.”

That was perspicacious of her to observe current lingo; she's a writer and has to be aware of words. How­ever, she's not a linguist and has missed that rather than a novel usage, it's a revival of an old one. My 1958 Thorndike-Barnhart Comprehensive Desk Dictionary defines: “gay, adj., 4. dissipated; immoral.” Such usage is seen in the English folk tale A Pottle of Brains: “but mind thy manners, and speak her pretty, my lad; for they wise folk are gey and light mispleased.” Rather than the word developing a new use, it is our vocabulary that has increased a notch. Such a gay meaning has been in our English lexicons all along.

We might want to consider what Professor George P. Marsh has to say in LECTURE XII, “The Vocabulary of the English Language” of his Lectures on the English Language (London: John Murray, 1863), pp. 179, 80:

Special changes of vocabulary can frequently be explained after they have once happened, but very seldom foretold, and words sometimes disappear altogether and are lost forever, or, like some stars, suddenly rise again to view, and resume their old place in both literature and the colloquial dialect, without any discoverable cause for either their occultation or their emergence.

... A knowledge of the primitive sense of a word very often enables us to discover a force and fitness in its modern application which we had never suspected before, and accordingly to employ it with greater propriety and appositeness.

It seems to me that's what happened to gay in the expression, "That's so gay!" It has emerged like a powerful star that had once grown dim. We need not be completely surprised when we consider that's sometimes the way of words.

According to CGB in Word Lore: The History of 200 Intriguing Words (New York: Gramercy Books, 2006) pp. 103f., "The homosexual sense of gay was most likely derived from the primary meanings in the early part of the 20th century: 'happy, carefree, hedonistic'—stereotyped homosexual personality traits," which I the reviewer discussed in my review elsewhere of the movie "Dark Victory." CGB's timeline shows "the 'homosexual' sense of gay not established until the late 1930s or early 1940s, ... then known only to homosexual, bohemian, or artistic subcultures, [but] by the 1950s known to the general public [who] considered it slang, used in the heterosexual community in the 1960s, [and] the preferred term of self reference for most homosexuals by the 1970s." The "That's so gay!" use of gay predates the homosexual use, the former being more recently revived by the youth.

This movie does not condescend to explain every usage of gay we have, but there are other places in it the word could be applied if we cared to. The cops' apart­ment is packed with men playing a Game of Thrones board game behind a gay tableau, that is a brightly colored design, gay. George's “joyful news” is of the happy event of his gay (i.e. happy) marriage, which should be happy and gay irrespective of sexual orientation. Solomon said so for hetero­sexuals in Eccl. 9:9, that they should have gay marriages, i.e. joyful ones. And Joey's answer to some­one's concern, “I'm not gay,” was in reference to his sexual orientation.

One expression not heard in the entire move centered on a same-sex marriage is "gay marriage" to refer to it. This is comparable to the movie “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” in which Bob and Carol have an immoral marriage that offends Alice who looks for her marriage with Ted to be reflected in Bob & Carol's. We'd call it an open marriage rather than a gay (i.e., immoral) one, because as noted above, a gay (i.e., joyful) marriage is the ideal all couples strive for, and we don't want to offend Alice. Petitioners in my state (Oregon) promoting same-sex marriage took care not to call it gay marriage so they wouldn't offend people (whose signatures they need.) News­papers that are just out to sell papers are not so careful about what they print. In “Love is Strange” the dyad “gay cops” (“the police­women”) was used, but not "gay marriage."

Production Values

“Love Is Strange” (2014) was directed by Ira Sachs who co-wrote the script with Mauricio Zacharias. It stars John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei. Lithgow and Molina had solid acting to carry their parts even to this audience member who didn't care to know what they were all about. Tomei seemed to revive the silent pictures skill of conveying emotion by facial expression, here with her inner tug-of-war between care­giving and writing (“I didn't have a very productive day.”) The film was rated R for language, although I would add a caution concerning some thematic material (drugs & sexual orientation). It was filmed in NYC, New York, USA. It's 94 min. long. There was some fine cinema­tog­raphy by Christos Voudouris. Sachs's direction had a gentle touch, allowing the strong per­for­mances of Lithgow and Molina to give the film its focus. Chopin plays softly in the back­ground at times, is mutilated by a piano student once, and there's a duet of “You've Got What it Takes” that isn't going to win any prizes.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“Love Is Strange” takes the bittersweet theme of an old married couple forced by financial circumstances and friend & family limitations to reside separately, seen once in the 1937 Leo McCarey film “Make Way For Tomorrow,” here modernized for 21st c. mores. This one takes the form of a cautionary tale: A same-sex couple seems to call down a curse upon their marriage by employing a term in the ceremony whose Latin root refers to mother­hood when, of course, neither man could become a mother. And while the term marriage admits to various usages without a religious institution batting an eye, it's the ceremony along with the announcement that forces them to take notice who earlier didn't bother enforcing their strict employ­ment rules. Two New York gays had failed to manage their resources well enough to weather the storm.

“Love” is non-judgmental; it doesn't take sides in the controversial issues. If not every­body can support a same-sex marriage, then the ones who can may be called upon to take up the slack. The film didn't push the erotica, I could get by with closing my eyes a few times, not having to walk out of the theater. The sub­plot of young love between a shy boy and a surfer girl was not given much screen time, but it skill­fully gave me a good feeling to leave the theater with. The only really objection­able material was the previews of coming attractions, which seemed to be geared towards a homo crowd. If that's not you, skip ahead to the movie start on your Dvd. I'm reluctantly going to call this one okay, excus­able as art, it could have been a lot worse.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: Predictable. Overall product rating: three stars out of five.