Contrary to the title, the love between Ben and George doesn't seem any stranger than a regular heterosexual couple after clocking 39 years of togetherness.
Ben, a painter played by John Lithgow, and George, a music teacher played by Alfred Molina, simply enjoy each other's company. Occasionally, they appreciate some cuddles and spooning.
This is the first movie I've seen about gays that's all about the home, not the sexual.
Roger Ebert's observation that the movies are like a machine for producing empathy comes to truth in Ira Sachs' domestic drama of sharply drawn, life-size conflicts.
When Ben and George finally can legally tie the knot, it strangles them financially. The New York church employing George's musical services fires him after learning of his sexual orientation.
Unable to keep their rent-controlled apartment, Ben reluctantly moves in with two gay cops who like to party hardy. George takes up residence with his clueless and absent nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his author wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), and their teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan).
Sachs directs "Love is Strange' with great perception about the benefits and drawbacks of family relationships, regardless of sexual orientation. Is there any person who can't relate to Ben's yearning for privacy? Or Kate's bitten-lip patience dealing with a needy houseguest?
Sachs writes (with Mauricio Zacharias) "Love is Strange" not as a gay relationship movie, but a human relationship drama invested in all of its characters, each of whom is granted time and dialogue to establish an identity and earn our understanding.
Of course, it falls to Lithgow and Molina to create empathy for the major characters, and the two of them fit so well together that it's heartbreaking when their marriage suffers terrible strain. And for what?
Apparently, being honest.
"Love is Strange" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago and the Evanston Century 18. Rated R for language. 98 minutes. ★ ★ ½