Love Is Strange: Middlebrow, Accessible Gay Film for All Audiences

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Every year there seems to be one or two gay and lesbian films that get attention from critics across the board.  This year, the film in question is Love Is Strange, which world premiered at the Sundance Film Fest and has played at many gay festivals since then.

The movie benefits from a timely subject matter, centering on two middle-aged men whose marriage causes one partner to lose his job as a Catholic music school teacher

The film had an impressive debut in less than a half dozen theaters last weekend. The enthusiastic response has Sony Pictures Classics planning expansion over the coming weeks.

The picture earned a strong $126,552 from five theaters in its limited opening. That boils down to an encouraging $25,310 per-screen average, tops for the week, and the potential for the film to catch on outside of the big cities of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta.

Art Films

That’s good news for the art house world, given that very few releases have managed to expand beyond the indie film crowd, with the exceptions of “Boyhood,” “Chef,” and “A Most Wanted Man.”

Of those, only “Chef” has topped $20 million domestically, though both “Boyhood” and “Most Wanted Man” still go strong.

“People have been seeing blockbusters all summer, so there’s always room for an alternative film to cross over,” said Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker. “There is no more timely film or more human film.”

This week,  the studio plans to broaden its footprint to 30 screens in eight to 10 cities such as San Francisco, Denver, Washington D.C. and Chicago. It will double that screen count the following week and should be in the top 50 markets by its fourth week in theaters, Barker said.

Public Support for Gay Marriage

With public support for gay marriage  growing and marriage equality in the headlines as more states change their legal codes to allow homosexual couples to wed, “Love is Strange” may benefit from tapping into an issue that’s being hotly debated. Even though some parts of the movie-going public may be opposed to gay marriage, analysts think the film will have a broad enough base of support to prosper as it rolls out.

“There are enough metropolitan areas for them to get the screens they need,” said BoxOffice.com Vice President and Chief Analyst Phil Contrino. “It’s something that’s constantly in the news and people are constantly thinking about it, so it seems very relevant and very timely.”

Critics have singled out the two leads, played by Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, for delivering some of the best performances of their career.  Which means that both actors and the film itself could conceivably end up in the awards hunt for the Spirit Awards.

Despite the benefits that might be reaped from debuting the picture during Oscar season, Barker said Sony Pictures Classics never wavered from a summer release strategy.

“The competition for high quality films then is so severe that we wanted to get a jump on the fall and go out in the summer,” he said. “People are still in the movie-going habit during the summer, but they’re not inundated with all these choices.”