There are so many coming-of-age stories every year that it's rare to see a mature love story. Even though Ira Sachs' "Love is Strange," which debuted at Sundance and landed a best feature nomination for the Gotham Awards, is about two gay men who get married, it's more about aging love. It's touching how much these people love each other.
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina have both generated buzz in the early awards discussion.
I spoke with Sachs and Lithgow at Sundance:
"It's love at the end of your life," says writer-director Ira Sachs, who was inspired by not only Woody Allen's New York relationship movies "Husbands and Wives" and "Hannah and Her Sisters" but his mother and stepfather's marriage of over 40 years, and the long relationship between his Memphis great-uncle and his partner. "There's something imperfect and beautiful and I wanted to make a film about that. It's a classic story of a couple facing a crisis and how they deal with it. It's a sweet film but the characters have edge, they're real. Sundance... confirmed that it is a tearjerker."
Sachs recognizes that Lithgow and Molina, at their age, don't get these kind of romantic leading roles anymore. "Whether it's gay or straight, it's a romantic film," he says.
Lithgow has explored gender identity in several films, from "M. Butterfly" and his Oscar-nominated role as Roberta Muldoon in "The World According to Garp" to identical twins in "My Brother's Keeper." "It's the most fascinating subject, because sexuality is at the heart of all of us," he says in our video interview below. "It's central to all of our beings." He compares "Love is Strange" to Michael Haneke's "Amour," which was also released by Sony Pictures Classics.
"I've never seen a relationship like this," Lithgow says. "The star of this film is a marriage and it's played by two people." Both he and Molina have been married to their respective wives for more than 30 years, he adds: "Both Fred and I have survived those turbulent waters."
Lithgow and Molina knew each other for decades, but they fell in love while shooting the movie, says Lithgow. "We had never worked together. The thing that brought us together was mutual friends. I found out how hilariously funny he is, a bold sense of absurdity. We couldn't think of anyone we could have played these roles with. I can't think of anybody but Fred that I would feel that comfortable and unselfconscious with.
An actor falls in love with the people you work with all the time. At the best of times it's something that opens you up, to an audience and the people you're acting with. It's cathartic. You're wide open. You put your feelings to work, they're not mechanical, they go in all directions. We both have the feeling that this is the best work we've ever done on film, it may be the best film we've ever made."
Another felicitous thing, adds Lithgow: "the film strikes a blow for acceptance and tolerance."