Is The Kindness of Strangers Based on a True Story?

With Danish director Lone Scherfig at the driving seat, the 2019 drama movie ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ is a melancholic but hopeful ode to urban existence. There is something profound about the everyday struggle of disparate strangers looking out for each other – it is nothing less than a fairy tale. Clara is a single mother of two running from the clutches of her abusive husband, Alice is a hustler bottling up her loneliness with three jobs, and Jeff has no particular ambitions. Marc is an ex-convict who lands a job as the manager of a rundown hotel. His only friend, John Peter, is a socially awkward recluse.

At the backdrop of an ice-cold city, the loners look for a cause to give meaning to their lives. In the process, they come together, and the movie oozes out a community feeling. The film is one that can you make you sob and is backed by a poignant score and vividly cinematographed. However, you may wonder how the director got the idea for the film and whether there is some objective truth behind the story. If that is the case, let us run a thorough investigation.

Is The Kindness of Strangers a True Story?

No, ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ is not based on a true story. The scope of the story is entirely fictional. New Yorkers are supposed to be snobbish (or at least stereotyped that way), and thus, the Big Apple provides a wishful backdrop against the emotionally fervent drama. Lone Scherfig of ‘An Education’ fame directed the movie from her own screenplay. The director stayed in New York City for a while in the 70s. Recollection of those days gave her enough material to start putting together an early idea.

It took the director a while to make the movie. It gradually figured in her writing pad from brief scenes and character sketches. Scherfig took the title from Tenessee Williams’ play ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ Although the movie claims to be set in New York, most of it is filmed in Toronto. The truth thus may seem elusive, but the film’s truth lies in the strength of its cast ensemble. The director sought to make a movie about perfect strangers with contemporary woes. They would know each other, grow dependent, and inch together towards a happy ending. The pastiche drama is tied together with Zoe Kazan’s resilient single-mother-with-two-kids.

Clara’s love story with Marc forms the backbone of the tale. However, the director stressed that this love story is not only a hackneyed hetero-normative romance so often portrayed in cinema. It touches upon the bond between a mother and her children, a boss and his employee, and strangers who lean on each other. Charity is a significant theme of the movie, and so is community. As for charity, the director has found the city to have a strong sense of charity.

The extent of perfect strangers reaching out to each other in time of need astonished Scherfig, and she articulately conveyed the feeling on the screen. However, due to her Dogme background, she bypassed sensationalizing the drama. In effect, the characters are not overtly political or not even heroic. While making the character sketches, the director took inspiration from people she met in New York during her stay. Then there are tiny details – like the foil of Alice and Clara – which give it a semblance of a structure. The cast members knew that it was an ensemble movie and delivered their best.

As Scherfig was not from the US, she needed the help of the actors to make the best of the script. The stars also rephrased some speeches while keeping the essence. Although Zoe Kazan’s character is the ubiquitous protagonist of the movie, Andrea Riseborough shines in the character of Alice. The director wanted to work with her for a long time and commented on Andrea’s commitment to the part. Ultimately, the film comes together as the actors embrace their roles, and the dramatization of mundane life gives it a semblance of realism.

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