Monday, January 8, 2018

OK, Brennan

Year: 2017
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg 
Run Time: 2 hours 12 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

As a gay film reviewer, I felt personally and professionally obligated to watch Call Me By Your Name, the new film from Italian director Luca Guadagnino, which has been nominated for a pile of Golden Globes and will surely be one of the most buzzed-about Oscars titles in the coming months. (Plus, as a horror fan, I needed to do some reconnaissance on the man who is currently helming the Suspiria remake.) I'm happy another gay film is getting such a big awards push. The years were long between Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight, and it's time for LGBT stories to hit the big time. But until our stories become mainstream in a legitimately major way, we're still stuck in the Oscarbait realm, a genre that I don't really like all that much.

Pictured: Me attempting to interact with fancy-people movies.

Based on the novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name tells the story of six long weeks in the dead of summer in 1983. At a palazzo in Northern Italy, 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) finds his lazy days are beginning to heat up with the arrival of graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer), who has come to intern with his anthropology professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Other than some initial resistance and the inevitable end to their time together, there is very little drama to be had here. Their love blossoms as they lay in the grass and lounge by the pool. And sometimes Oliver actually does some work, though you start to wonder if Michael Stuhlbarg doesn't just cart in students so his son can get it in.

At any rate, his Father of the Year award is in the mail.

It's difficult for one to review a film so purely dedicated to the depiction of aesthetic and sensual pleasures. Especially when one didn't really like it quite as much as the rest of the world. But let me say this: If the sole reason you're watching Call Me By Your Name is to get some gorgeous, sun-dappled shots of the Italian countryside (and you have every right to approach it this way), you will love this movie. But after a certain point it begins to feel like a screensaver and not an actual narrative.

It does capture that feeling of time ticking slowly in a summer daze, the seconds seeming almost too lazy to drift by the way they normally do. However, accurately representing the feeling of boredom isn't something I'm really looking for in a motion picture, and as much as the lush camerawork takes in the awe and splendor of the beauty of nature, it doesn't quite manage to let you feel the sheer heat of the summer. Characters are splashing around in pools and rivers, so it clearly ain't winter, but the film is too pretty to let them sweat. It all feels sealed off from any real-world experience, which isn't really helped by the fact that Elio is living out his teen angst in a gorgeous palace in one of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in the world, with parents who love and understand him and a strapping broad shoulder to cry on.

I just don't feel inclined to feel sorry for him, I can't put my finger on why...

To be fair, it's not like the purpose of every movie is to be relatable. And to be fairer, there is some excellent work here in two people in the first throes of falling in love can create a bubble around themselves, finding a space for their passion to grow in a beautiful vacuum apart from all the other factors in their life and environment. And while it's certainly not exciting, it's never truly boring. There's always some new vista or terrible dance sequence to keep you occupied.

But now that I've just barely nicked a toehold onto the concept of music, I must speak my piece about the score to this film. It's just plain aggressive. Its constant piano trills feel like it was played by someone with hammers instead of fingers, and the two or three times it dips into an original Sufjan Stevens acoustic noodle, the lurching leaves a pit in your stomach. And by George, are those Sufjan Stevens songs two of the most treacly, infuriatingly juvenile tracks ever provided for an Oscar contender, and I'm including that song from Trolls that got nominated last year. It feels like something I would have written when I was 14, and there's a reason I wasn't being asked to score major motion pictures in junior high.

OK, maybe I'm just complaining extra hard because the rest of the critical sphere is revering this film as a new modern classic and I just don't get it. But allow me one more: There's a scene with a peach here that - as I understand it - is a direct lift and even a sanitization of a scene from the book. But with it, the movie takes a swerve into territory that feels like a cross between John Waters and David Cronenberg, and it fits like a square peg into no hole at all.

Let me tell you, if I had witnessed the events of this film in real life, I would certainly not feel the urge to be kissing either of these people.

OK, because I'm going to give Call Me By Your Name a 7/10, I should probably start saying some nice things about it. Like I said, it's certainly a visual feast. And I would definitely like to commend one Mr. Hammer, who manages to turn a brash American idiot into a delicate, loving dreamboat in a way that actually feels organic and all contained within the multitudes of one single personality. Chalamet and Stuhlbarg have been getting all the attention lately, and they are good, but this is an ensemble piece through and through. Everyone commits to the feelings and tone of the film, and even if those things aren't ones I particularly respond to, that's something worth celebrating.

TL;DR: Call Me By Your Name is a lush, pretty romance that ends up feeling just a teensy bit empty when all is said and done.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 1057


  1. Re: Oscarbait. Yeah, to me, Brokeback and Carol are like getting on a megaphone and telling GAY FOLKS CAN BE BORING TOO. (Duke of Burgundy was rad, and it's a shame Todd "I've wasted the last ten years" Haynes had already drained the public's attention span for arty lesbian romance in 2016.)

    P.S. I like that song from Trolls. Unless I'm thinking of something else. Talk about a movie that just collapses in in itself halfway thru.

  2. I finally saw this, B, and would generally agree on almost every point, though I think I liked it less. I liked a lot of it, but every so often a scene would spool up and my response would swerve into outright sourness and disbelief, where I had to stop myself from audibly expressing thoughts like "If I wanted to see heterosexual teens screw, I would have stayed at home," and "What the he'll is wrong with you? Have you never heard of ants?"

    1. Yeah, the movie is definitely all over the place. I can't wait to read your thoughts on it!