OldKingClancy posted a MOVIE REVIEW item: 18 days ago

Call Me By Your Name



Call-me-by-your-name-poster

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Written by: James Ivory
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet
Studio:
Genre: Drama, Romance
Official Site:
Plot: Peachy Keen

Review:

I debated with myself about whether or not to review Call Me By Your Name or wait until a 2nd viewing because I initially I thought that what I didn’t ‘get’ about the film was what made it work in the first place. But then I looked back on the LGBT films I’d seen previously and noted that my favourite ones - Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Moonlight, Brokeback Mountain to name a few – all carried something Call Me By Your Name didn’t, a sense of weight and conflict. This in turn brought in another debate, do I judge the film too harshly for being so light or do I praise it for being one of the first LGBT films to tackle a gay romance without the need for conflict to be part of its narrative?

So I decided I’d write the review out and see where my thoughts lead.

Set over an endless summer in 1983 Italy, the film opens with Oliver, a 29 year old archaeology student arriving at the home of his professor Mr Pearlman, to live with the family over the summer, taking the bedroom of the family’s 17 year old son Elio, much to Elio’s annoyance. The pair of them are very different people, where Elio is introspective and cautious even around his maybe girlfriend Marzia, Oliver is carefree and friendly to all, but as they spend more time together they start to become friendlier, eventually attracting a mutual interest in one another to evolves into a summer romance.

Here’s where the film makes or breaks itself, the film tackles the emotional first love that leads to the first sexual experience that leads to the first heartbreak, it’s all very recognisable and Elio’s journey is a harsh but necessary one for a young man to take. But there’s very little else to this film to give it some emotional weight and I fear that may have been the point, to showcase a gay romance without the need for angst and conflict and instead keep things light and charming, but without that weight this film is just as typical as a straight romance story.

This is my issue reviewing this movie because while I want to praise it for – in lack of a better word – normalising a gay relationship and treating the concept of first love through an LGBT angle with respect and compassion, but that doesn’t keep it from being a rather slow and ponderous film that’s in desperate need for someone to cut it down. A straightforward gay love story is just as forgettable as a straightforward straight love story.

Acting was good but again lacking in certain areas, I’m more willing to give this a pass because the subtlety worked in the actor’s favour. I would’ve liked more from Elio’s parents, both of whom are very nice people and appear welcoming of Oliver into their and Elio’s lives but neither play a very big part in the story, Michael Stuhlberg did have a warm and heartfelt monologue at the end of the film and he delivers it very well but absolutely nowhere near the Oscar attention people are giving him.

Armie Hammer does probably his best work since Social Network as Oliver, arriving to Italy with confidence and charm, he quickly makes a place for himself in the family. What’s clear from the outset is that Oliver is very open about himself, he never shies away, never feels the need to hide who he is and while he never admits to being gay or even bisexual, his attraction to Elio feels like another natural part of him, a healthy interest in sexuality. Despite their age difference Oliver never comes off as predatory, he’s enticed by Elio primarily for his cultural knowledge and musical but he’s actually the one who’s reluctant to take their relationship further. Hammer’s cool delivery makes Oliver the heartthrob of Elio’s desires and carries him through the love-story but it also leads into the heartbreak later on.

Credit where it’s due, Timothee Chalamet as Elio is definitely the strongest element of the film and I see a good future for the young actor. Being only 17 and still working himself out, Elio is often quiet and withdrawn, not so much introverted as he’s fine with talking to people but emotionally he’s not quite there yet. While initially he doesn’t take to Oliver, the more time they spend together the more comfortable he becomes with the older guest which leads into a burgeoning attraction. Much like Oliver, Elio never states himself as gay or bisexual or straight, as much as he pursues Oliver he also has a sexual relation with local girl Marzia, but in Elio’s case he’s still trying to understand himself and as we see a few times even he doesn’t understand his urges. One of the film’s key scenes with a peach is odd at first but it leads into one of the most genuinely emotional moments of the film with a humiliated Elio and a playful Oliver at odds for one of the only times of the film. As much as the film as a whole lacks weight, Chalamet is already showing a great ability to subtly flicker emotion on his face which make the scenes where he breaks down all the more powerful.

The film is directed by Luca Guadagnino – who also directed A Bigger Splash last year, another critically acclaimed film I wasn’t too hot on – and to be fair, the mood he’s going for is pretty much a nailed, this is an easy summer romance film and it plays out easily and summarily (?), from the sunlight villas of Italy to the constant swimming in pools and the unrushed lunches outside, the whole film has this lightness to it that’s exactly what Guadagnino is trying to put across. And yes, it is nice to see a gay romance play out with this much ease and even charm to it with Hammer delivering a certain playfulness to the tone that helps keeps an easy viewing.

But it’s that ease that keeps me from seeing why this film is so acclaimed, without a conflict the film ends up being over 2 hours of two guys dancing around each other before boning, I’ve seen that film before with straight characters and I didn’t care much for it then. I guess you can make the argument that the conflict is within Elio as he comes to understand himself but honestly that plays such a minor part in the film, as soon as he learns that Oliver is a sure thing his mind is solely focussed on him to the point where even with Marzia he’s distracted by thoughts of Oliver. Don’t get me wrong, as a love story it’s soft and sweet but it’s window dressing, lacking in the substance that films like Blue Is The Warmest Colour and Moonlight and Brokeback Mountain were able to deliver and made them hit so much harder than this one did.

Maybe it is me, maybe I’ve so use to the tragedy of LGBT cinema that something this light just doesn’t cut it for me because I’m too busy waiting for a moment that’s never going to come. And looking at it from that angle, it is a shame that the majority of LGBT cinema is wrought in tragedy and pain, maybe films like this are necessary for moving forward and finally allowing gay romance to be seen in the same light as straight romances. Hell I love the Before Trilogy and that is just two straight people talking for 90 minutes, why does the lack of conflict in that movie make it any different than this one?

I’m not the right person to explain my own thoughts, regardless Call Me By Your Name is a film I just couldn’t get into. It’s wonderfully pretty, it provides a rare look of lightness and sensuality to LGBT cinema and Chalamet proves himself an actor to keep an eye on with an emotional and tender performance. But it just doesn’t have the weight to be anything other than a very pretty love story, if that’s enough for you I’m not going to say you’re wrong, I can definitely see where others can find the film appealing but for me it just proves that LGBT romances can one day be as forgettable as straight ones.

7/10

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