two men holding hands on a beach

Love is (not so) strange

Dear Mom,

This year’s Oscars show was a real treat, and it may well have been the gayest Oscars ever:

Neil Patrick Harris as host! And on stage in his tighty-whities to boot!

Chris Pine (my celebrity crush—just ask Isabella!) in tears after John Legend and Common gave a rousing performance of their Oscar-winning song from Selma.

Graham Moore (who latter had to clarify that he is, in fact, not gay), drawing attention to the ill-treated gay hero Alan Turing!

Lady Gaga belting out a tribute to The Sound of Music to the thrill of Julie Andrews and gays everywhere!

So much gay to go around!

A tiny little bit of celluloid gay from 2014 that slipped by without any awards but doesn’t deserved to be overlooked was Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an older gay couple who after four decades together decide to get hitched. (It also featured Cheyenne Jackson’s biceps in a stellar supporting role, but that’s another matter entirely.) A touching tribute to the power of love and commitment, it brings to life in small, touching moments the strength we receive from those who we choose as our family.

One of the qualities that I loved about it was that it’s not about being gay.  Yes, it is ironic that the act of getting legally married is the catalyst for the separation of this long-devoted duo, and yes, the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church is fully on display in a plot twist all too familiar for some gay and lesbian couples. But the beauty of this story lies somewhere other than the sexual orientation of its main characters.

I saw in Ben and George the story of Phil and Marion once they had sold their home and moved into Dosberg Manor.  I remember your phone calls from that time, as you spoke about how your parents, married for over fifty years, were forced to live in separate rooms once Pa got too sick and needed more frequent and intensive care. They were inseparable for as long as I could remember, and it was difficult to imagine them having to live and sleep apart.

For Ben and George, the separation follows swiftly on the heels of George being sacked from the Catholic school where he teaches music.  His marriage to Ben is a public avowal of his homosexuality, and in direct violation of diocesan policy.  Even though everyone already knew he was gay, the parish priest unceremoniously fires him.  Without George’s income, the pair are forced apart when they can no longer afford their Manhattan co-op.  George moves in with his nephew and his family, and Ben accepts a couch in the home of their former neighbors.

There is a vivid scene when George rushes over to see George, and hugs him hard, sobbing into his shoulder. Although I can’t recall ever seeing Ma and Pa hug, this cinematic scene embodied how I imagine Ma and Pa felt on some level. How does a couple, together for decades, suddenly manage living apart?

The filmmaker, Ira Sachs, provides no easy answers nor does he engage in tidy moralizing.  They have a few years on us, but I saw in Ben and George a fair approximation of the life Patrick and I share. Both were a bit soft in the middle, their banter includes the very real nagging and complaining that makes up any marriage, but they are surrounded by family and close friends, and full of passion, the arts, and creativity.

Sachs’ triumph here is to transport the audience to each ordinary joyous and painful moment for these two strong, wounded, flawed men, and to show how they benefit from, and impact, the people they hold dear.  In that way, the movie moves beyond an impassioned call for marriage equality, and instead encourages viewers to tune into the small, quiet everyday blessings in our own lives.

In a year when gender roles were upended in the children’s fable Frozen, and all sorts of roles and expectations were turned inside out in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Love is Strange pushes the envelope in its own subtly political way. Salon rightly called the movie “more than a gay-marriage story. (It is a) gorgeous fable of American life.” It’s about time that a gay couple take their place at the head of such a fable.

You and dad should check it out!

Love, Christopher