Movie reviews:  Love is Strange, The Interview, Bad Hair

Love is Strange ***

Movie reviews:  Love is Strange, The Interview, Bad Hair

The course of true love never did run smooth, according to the Bard, and by those lights love is entirely normal in Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange (15A).

When long-term partners Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) finally decide to marry, their decision results in their finding themselves homeless, and forced to live in separate apartments until they can find an affordable home.

George moves in with fun-loving cops Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez), while Ben relocates to Brooklyn to live with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his author wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their son Joey (Charlie Tahan).

It’s not long before the strain of living apart begins to take its toll on Ben and George’s marriage, particularly as both are living in environments wholly unsuited to their respective temperaments.

A slight but quietly reflective drama, Love is Strange drops Ben and George into the lives of their friends like a pair of stones, the consequences rippling out to impact on other relationships as people try to accommodate the unexpected pressures and gifts that living with semi-strangers brings.

At the centre of it all, and despite their enforced separation, Ben and George are the heart and soul of the story, their easy-going but enduring love worn lightly but given a tender reading by Lithgow and Molina.

Elsewhere, Tomei and Burrows turn in solidly persuasive performances, even if their characters’ own problems and increasingly fractious relationship seem tangential to the main story.

Opening with a very funny segment featuring a surprisingly frank Eminem, The Interview (15s) stars James Franco as Dave Skylark, host of the entertainment chatshow ‘Skylark Tonight’.

The show represents the lowest-common-denominator type of showbiz fluff, but it has one very special fan — Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park), the Supreme Leader of North Korea.

When Dave is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to interview Kim in North Korea, he and his producer Aaron (Seth Rogen) grab the opportunity, only for their endeavour to be hijacked by the CIA, who want Dave and Aaron to assassinate Kim.

The Interview hit the headlines late last year for all the wrong reasons, when Sony was hacked by cyber-attackers demanding the cancellation of the movie, but in truth this is a harmless piece of comedy fluff, a contemporary Spies Like Us (1985), with the hapless Aaron and Dave stumbling around out of their depth as potential assassins.

It’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny, largely due to Franco’s willingness to ham up his role as a dim-witted TV presenter, but it’s just as often objectionably crude and blunt.

If there is satire buried under the potty-mouth puns and coarse language, it’s a satire of the American public’s willingness to accept any old propaganda about the latest ‘evil empire’, but the movie — which is directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the pair previously co-directed the Hollywood spoof This Is The End (2013) — is at its most effective when revelling in its own implausibility, such as when Dave and Kim bond over their shared love of Katy Perry and margaritas in a Russian tank.

We’ve all had Bad Hair (12A) days, but nine-year-old Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano) is having a bad hair life. Obsessed with becoming a pop star as a way out of the Caracas slums, Junior needs to find a way to straighten his curly mop, but Junior’s rather ambitious plans result in his mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo), experiencing a homosexual panic on behalf of her young boy, and his grandmother, Carmen (Nelly Ramos), encouraging Junior’s desire to dress flamboyantly, in the hope of disguising him as a girl and thus saving him from the killing streets where young men are dying from gang-related activities.

That all sounds rather comically absurd, but writer-director Mariana Rondón’s film is only ever darkly comic in flashes; instead, Bad Hair (original title Pelo Malo) offers a frequently sobering child’s-eye view of growing up in very harsh circumstances, where poverty is a given and violence expected.

Young Zambrano is excellent in the lead role, blending a child’s stubbornness with a genuine sense of wide-eyed innocence as he clashes again and again with his mother, but it’s Castillo who steals the show with her air of frantic, quiet desperation as she battles against insurmountable odds to secure a future for her children.

Also released this week is Fifty Shades of Grey (18s), starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, which was screened for media too late for a review to be included here.

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