Strange Way of Life

Strange Way of Life
September 30th 2023

Twinks beware: there’s not much eye candy in Strange Way of Life (2023). In theory there is nothing hotter than a gay cowboy movie by the legendary Pedro Almodóvar. In practice it’s a mixed bag. There’s one abbreviated sex “scene,” cut short by a fade to black. The next morning features a cute shot of Pedro Pascal’s butt, but it’s rather brief. Ethan Hawke never shows us much of his hard body. When it comes to two straight men playing gay, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of nudity to sell their affair, especially when they never consummate their love on screen. Cinema has become so afraid of raw sexuality—even Ira Sach’s wonderful Passages (2023) would have benefited from more fucking.

The two ex-lovers reunite after 25 years when Pascal’s son kills Hawke’s daughter-in-law. The ins-and-outs of the murder are murky; due to the movie’s 30-minute run time the exposition is both painfully direct and wispily opaque. The film is simply too short to deliver on its premise. Pascal plays Silva, a drifting rancher who misses his lover Jake (a gruff Hawke), who has become a sheriff in their time apart. The next morning after their sexual reunion, the couple argues in circles. The expected melodramatic flourishes occur: “Ours is a strange fate,” Silva says. “You have no heart, Jake. You never did. You just like to fuck.” It’s thrilling to hear Pedro Pascal say “cum” even if the two have no chemistry.

Without fully committing to camp, Almodóvar’s more serious efforts can get bogged down by their sentimentality. We come to the church of Almodóvar for a romp. There is one flashback that recalls the zany antics of the director’s early work. The two young lovers are shooting wine flasks to impress a flock of beautiful women. Everyone drinks from the fountain of crimson wine and caresses each other’s bodies—until the women realize the two men are only interested in each other. They leave as Silva and Jake roll around, kissing in the dregs.

The two undertake a race across the desert to Silva’s son’s ranch. Jake wants to kill the man who killed his daughter-in-law, and Silva wants to save him. There are certainly moments of beauty to savor here—shots of galloping horses, sandstorms, tight choreography framed by mirrors, and Pascal’s green jacket contrasted against the dusty brown desert. They converge in a moment reminiscent of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989), though without the erotic charm. It’s an abrupt and somewhat bitter ending lacking the emotional pay-off the film seems to think it has earned. Brokeback Mountain (2005) was able to earn its keep through building and breaking two lovers, but Strange Way of Life never seems to get started. “What can two men do on a ranch?” Jake asks. Almodóvar leaves the answer open for our two lonesome, sexless cowboys.

Strange Way of Life screens this afternoon, September 30, at the New York Film Festival followed by a conversation with director Pedro Almodóvar.