|Love is Strange|
|Are You Here|
Too much Chopin, not enough substance in the sleepy, white-people-problems movie "Love is Strange," starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as Ben and George, a Manhattan couple of forty years who finally tie the knot.
George thereby loses his job teaching music at a Catholic school (they'd abided his relationship with Ben but not this explicit contravention of Church doctrine), forcing the two to sell their condo and find separate temporary accommodations: George on the couch of the two gay cops downstairs (Manny Perez and the always annoying Cheyenne Jackson), Ben with his producer nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) and Elliot's author wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) on the lower bunk of their teenage son Joey's (Charlie Tahan) bed. Hmm.
All the details feel misjudged or a few decades out of date. First, that George's teaching job alone supports a mortgage on a well-appointed Manhattan apartment. (Ben paints as an avocation, but what else?) Second, that in the NYC real estate market, selling the unit yields a cashout in the low five figures. Third, that a couple so deeply and long in love would rather live like kids just starting out than find a place together somewhere out of the city. (Worried about overpopulation? Drive up the 5 a couple hours and you'll feel fine.) Fourth, that these old souls would engage in so many wet, sloppy PDA's. It's unbecoming. I could go on. Not much happens in "Love is Strange" - scenes in the last third might as easily have come in the first third - but every fifteen minutes or so director Ira Sachs gives us another wordless montage set to classical music. (Cinematographer Christos Voudouris casts the city in a lovely amber glow.) As usual, Tomei's the best thing about the movie as the writer struggling manfully to produce new work while fulfilling her familial obligation to "Uncle Ben" (a moniker repeated so often I kept waiting for a product placement for long grain rice).
Before we saw the movie, an enviably successful Westside realtor told my friend it was "depressing." I'm sure for a certain privileged class, the prospect of being forced to downsize is the stuff of sheer terror. But couples do it all the time, together, making the set-up of "Love is Strange" seem contrived and false.
"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner's "Are You Here" is another comedy with no business at the bottom (8% fresh) of the Rotten Tomatoes ocean. I can't quite recommend it - it's drastically overlong, with a redundant plot that runs out of steam early - but it approaches double digits in big laughs and offers lots of chuckles along the way. Owen Wilson stars as Steve Dallas, a horndog Annapolis TV weatherman who drives up to Lancaster, PA to help his emotionally stunted best friend Ben (Zach Galifianakis) stymie his financially motivated sister's (Amy Poehler) challenge to his competence when their father passes, leaving Ben the bulk of his $2.5M estate. There, Steve falls hard for Angela (Laura Ramsey), Ben's widowed (and much younger) stepmother.
Galifianakis and Poehler each score a few laughs, and the big guy shows some potential for more serious parts when it becomes clear Ben is not only off the grid but off his meds. At its core, though, the movie's a vehicle for Wilson's trademark glib, self-serving humor. It's become fashionable to deride Wilson in some quarters, but I've always liked him; you never know what's going to come out of his mouth next, and that leads to a lot of lines made all the funnier for their off-handedness. I really wish Weiner had left out one sequence involving man's place atop the food chain, but much more laughter echoed through my audience than that 8% score would suggest.