Magazine article Variety

Here Come the Grooms

Magazine article Variety

Here Come the Grooms

Article excerpt

Love Is Strange* is one of the rare movies anchored by gay characters that's not defined by sex.

The story is set in a post-gay-rights Manhattan where marriage is legal for George (Alfred Molina) and Ben (John IJthgow). longtime partners who gel hitched in a local park, surrounded by their closest friends. To fund the $1.2 million drama, which Sony Pictures Classics will platform release Aug. 22. director Ira Sachs turned tó his community for help. "1 got financing from 25 individuals, the majority of whom were retired lesbian businesswomen," says Sachs over lunch on a recent afternoon in the West Village. "They eared about the story, and believed it eould speak to a wide audience.'* Sachs says the backers have already turned a profit from worldwide distribution deals out of Sundance and Berlin.

F NOT FOR ITS UNCONVENTIONAL FINANCING, "Love Is Strange" might never have found its way to the bigscreen.

While gay rights have advanced tremendously since Ellen DeGeneres kicked down the closet door in 1997 as the first gay star in primetime television, Hollywood hasn't kept up with the times. A recent survey from GLAAD shows that only 17% of the major studio films last year featured gay characters. None of those were lead roles, and they often came across as offensive stereotypes (such as the promiscuous butler who hosts an orgy in "The Wolf of Wall Street"). "Do I think the industry is still skittish?" asks veteran Broadway producer Jayne Baron Sherman, who helped make "Love Is Strange." "Absolutely. Hollywood is very closeted."

As this summer has proven, tentpoles are still targeted squarely to teenage boys, and studio executives are too wary about job security to rock the boat. Andrew Garfield caused a ruckus last year when he suggested Spider-Man could be gay, an idea he never revisited on the press tour for the latest Sony Pictures sequel. There still isn't an openly gay A-list star, and the last hit crossover love story opened nearly a decade ago: 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," which grossed $178 million worldwide. "I think Hollywood is amazed at how well 'Brokeback Mountain did, and they aren't ready to take that risk again," says Andrew Haigh, director of the 2011 gay British romancer "Weekend."

Even though the number of celebrities who openly identify as gay continues to grow - including Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Chris Colfer, Wentworth Miller, Matt Borner and Jane Lynch - most of these actors primarily appear on TV, where the most prominent gay characters live. This year, HBO premiered "Looking," a gay series executive produced by Haigh, and set in San Francisco; and "The Normal Heart," the TV movie based on the Larry Kramer AIDS play. In 2013, the network picked up "Behind the Candelabra," after no U.S. movie studio would touch the Liberace biopic, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.

Blythe Robertson, an executive producer on "Love Is Strange," explains that what drew her to the project was its integrity. "So many gay movies are about sex, drugs, bad relationships and cheating," she says. "This was very dignified." The film is especially poignant for her, because she got married in Massachusetts to her partner of 17 years in October. "It was the most meaningful event in my life," Robertson says. "It seriously changed everything."

Lithgow says that "Love Is Strange" is unique in that, unlike many gay-themed movies, it's simply a love story about two older people. "What's extraordinary about this film is how ordinary it is," he says. "It's about real life."

Molina has portrayed gay characters several times, starting with 1987's "Prick Up Your Ears," and he's noticed some progress while promoting the projects. Journalists used to ask him if playing a gay man would hurt his career, and now everybody accepts it. "In those days, gay characters were outrageous in some ways," Molina says. "They had to be weird."

For many years, the only realistic gay roles in film came from the indie world. …

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