It’s been a fairly poor choice this valentine’s weekend for cinema goers, with most studios surrendering the slot to the monstrous phenomenon that is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Fortunately, there was one light shining in the bondage filled darkness – independent film ‘Love is Strange‘ starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.
If there were ever an example of two polar opposite films, it’s these two. Where one shows the impulsivity and superficiality of a lust driven fling between two young people, the other perfectly encapsulates exactly what real love looks like, even when you’re old and grey and down on your luck.
Read on to see how they both stack up in this Valentine’s special review.
Fifty Shades of Grey:
It’s been 4 years since the world was first introduced to the quasi fan-fiction tale written by E. L. James. Apparently, it hasn’t lost its steam. Grossing an impressive weekend box office and creating a bit of a news storm (with reported violence and drama at some viewings), it’s certainly the more talked about of the two Valentine’s themed releases. But does it live up to the hype?
Our house wife friendly protagonist Anastasia Steele is just a shy, normal college student until she meets the charming and intense Mr Christian Grey. Quickly intrigued by the humble and unassuming young girl, Christian pursues her affections, but something is making him hold back – his tastes are rather particular. Ana finds she must embark on a journey of sexual discovery as she decides if she can handle what it takes to have a relationship with the man who makes her heart race.
The story has never been celebrated for its quality. However, it brought certain aspects of erotic fiction into the mainstream – specifically BDSM – and was eaten up by its predominantly female fans. Though some may say the franchise’s success made a film adaption inevitable, it was always difficult to see how this could translate onto the big screen without simply being porn.
Fortunately, the one thing the film does do right is approach it with a little tongue in cheek. In what could have been an embarrassingly awkward viewing experience, there are plenty of light moments of humour that result in audience laughter. However, that is where the positivity ends.
Though director Sam Taylor Johnson (Nowhere Boy) is clearly trying to bring some quality to the material, it is a blindly faithful portrayal – and due to the lack of substance within the plot itself (mainly serving as filler between sex scenes in the novel), it quickly begins to drag and become repetitive.
The actors themselves are mediocre. While both Dakota Johnson (21 Jump Street) and Jamie Dornan (Marie Antoinette) seem to be able to bring a certain amount of charisma to their respective roles, the chemistry between them is never quite strong enough to sustain the intense sexual atmosphere.
The film skips quickly through the lustful couple’s encounters with no sense of reality whatsoever, doing a complete injustice to all the supporting characters, including a pointless blink or you’ll miss it appearance from Rita Ora.
Though the sex scenes themselves are arguably ‘tasteful’ (or as tasteful as could be expected), their actions outside of the bedroom are so ridiculous and un-relatable that the romance is never something enviable.
This is not a story about love, or even anything resembling a real human connection – it is pure lustful fantasy. Unfortunately the fantasy quickly descends into depressing and almost deplorable behaviour that certainly doesn’t leave much room for escapist satisfaction. Not to mention the very odd choices in the soundtrack. Using almost dark choral music in key sexual moments does nothing but completely take away any atmosphere of pleasure.
It would be nothing more than an awkward B-movie at best if it weren’t for the already established name. The only reason to go and see this film is out of morbid curiosity, or if you are already a fan of the books (or if your girlfriend is making you!). Now all that remains to be seen is whether any of those involved (this being a vehicle for some fairly new talent trying to establish themselves) will be able to shake the pigeon-holeing likely to come with it.
Love Is Strange:
On the other end of the spectrum is Ira Sachs’ (Keep the Lights On) Sundance & Tribeca film festival selected ‘Love is Strange‘; an honest and meaningful exploration of long term commitment & family support during adversity.
John Lithgow & Alfred Molina play Ben & George, a gay couple celebrating their 40 year relationship with a long-awaited marriage. However, as much as times have moved on, George’s catholic school employers are not quite progressive enough to accept their marriage – so George is swiftly fired. Unable to make ends meet, the couple are forced to sell their city apartment and seek refuge with family and friends, separated for the first time in decades. Trying to remain supportive but feeling the strain of unwanted house guests, those around them try and deal with these changes while juggling problems in their own lives; but always understanding how difficult it is for these two men, so very much in love, to have to be apart.
It is a rare thing for an on screen pair to fully realise the ease of company and depth of connection that you see in a happy long term couple. It’s even rarer for two established male actors to do so. Lithgow and Molina have a wonderful chemistry and their characters are so believably, obviously in love, that it is easy to fall in love with their romance yourself. Their closeness to each other and kindness to those around them make it easy to see why these people are so willing to upturn their lives.
The film boasts a great cast, with a strong performance from Marisa Tomei (Crazy, Stupid Love). With a group of characters spanning different age groups and personalities, this unconventional family makes for entertaining and relatable viewing. Sachs’ plot delicately interweaves the family’s hidden problems as we watch on like an awkward guest ourselves. Tomei plays the tight balance between patience and irritation wordlessly and effectively, and also worth shouting some praise is young actor Charlie Tahan (Blue Jasmine), who gives a great emotional performance, especially as the film draws to a close.
The classical music, the picturesque settings and the choice not to visualise the films negative events (but rather deal with the characters emotions and responses in the aftermath), make for a truly pleasant and heart warming experience that will put a smile on your face and reaffirm your faith in true love. It is most definitely the superior Valentine’s Day choice and is a touching, honest & simply love story worth aspiring too.