When I first saw the trailer for the new film, Love Is Strange, a few weeks ago, I thought that the producers could advertise it with the tagline: “Ripped from the headlines of Bondings 2.0!” But then I got real about how well-known this blog is. LOL!
Still, the main premise of this new film starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei is indeed on a topic about which we report and comment frequently on this blog: a gay employee being fired from a Catholic institution when it is found out that he has legally married his lifelong partner.
Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina) are an aging gay couple who marry in New York City after having been committed to one another for 39 years. George, a music teacher at what to all appearances is a Manhattan Catholic school, is soon fired, however, when the administrators at the school learn of the marriage. What follows is a sometimes touching, but more often sad, story of what can happen to a couple, and their extended families, when a main source of their livelihood is taken from them.
Ben and George end up having to sell their apartment, and when they do not receive the amount they had expected from the sale, they are forced to live separately with their respective family members (one of them played by Tomei). The impact of this abrupt change on their relationship and on their relatives comprises the bulk of the film’s story line.
As far as I know, the film did not have a long or wide theatrical release. in the U.S. It is available as a Netflix DVD, which is how I viewed it.
My hope and expectation for this film is that it would examine a bit of the crisis that occurs because of an unjust decision by a religious institution. The writers and director, however, take the movie in a different direction, making it more of a family drama than a story concerned about injustice to LGBT people.
There are two scenes which focus on the employment issue. The first is the firing itself, which takes place in a priest-administrator’s office, and highlights the hypocrisy present in the decision. In defending himself, George points out to the priest that his relationship was well-known for many years to the faculty and students at the school, and that even his plans for marrying were known publicly for months, with no repercussions until after the actual marriage itself.
Perhaps the most religious dialogue of the movie are the two lines which end the conversation between the priest and George. The priest closes the conversation by saying, “Let’s pray. I don’t want this to make you question your faith.” George’s response is the strong declaration: “I still believe in Jesus Christ as my savior.”
The second segment that deals with the firing is a memory montage of George’s music teaching, as the voice-over narration is the text of a letter that he wrote to the parents, explaining why he was fired. He encourages the parents to have a conversation with their children to see if they think that justice was served in this situation. He also urges parents to tell students not to ever hide who they are or to fear what they think.
As a story about how an elderly gay couple must navigate their relationship through a rocky patch of economic woes and forced separation, Love Is Strange is a moving film. As the story of the faith and justice questions involved when a gay person is fired from a church job, the film only barely scratches the surface.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry