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In a week when Valentine’s Day goes viral at the cinema (see also Love Is All), here is a bittersweet charmer from American indie filmmaker Ira Sachs. You could call it Fifty Shades of Gay. Love comes to — indeed long ago came to — two ageing New Yorkers newly forced out of their apartment. Their blissful but belated wedding has been followed by a mortgage-imperilling job loss. With choirmaster George (Alfred Molina) fired from his Catholic school, painter companion Ben (John Lithgow) patiently packs his things. Off the two go into the cold.
It’s a King Lear for the post-Stonewall era: touching, funny, wise, and wryly suggesting that though gays may never have had it so good, they could still have it better. For one dispossessed monarch pinballed round early Britain, read two human butterflies forlornly flitting across Manhattan in forced separation. Ben takes the lower bunk in a nephew’s son’s bedroom. By day he exasperates with his loose-ends chatter the nephew’s writer wife (Marisa Tomei). George grabs a berth with two gay cop friends. Parties every night for a man long past his party-loving days.
When two is company, even two and a half is a crowd. The stress fractures stretch from guests to hosts: personal crises and household quarrels are both suddenly in the eavesdroppers’ domain. What happened to privacy? Writer-director Sachs (Keep the Lights On) is a gifted, Chekhovian miniaturist. He perfects every tic and tock of his two heroes’ lives, as they gaze at the clock of their existence, robbed of the togetherness that made minutes, hours, days worthwhile. Molina and Lithgow are both superb: two crusty romantics searching for crumbs in a world, however well-meaning, that is too busy for love unless it comes tidy, manageable and vexation-free.