"Call Me By Your Name" - Aesthetically Pleasing, But Lacking Sizzle
Since the early part of 2017 I had been eagerly anticipating the release of the movie Call Me By Your Name, which received rapturous reviews as it traveled the film festival circuit. At long last it opened in New York in late November, but after all of the rhapsodic buzz it generated, I found the movie somewhat of a disappointment. Although the Italian-set film was beautiful to watch, it felt sanitized (in fact, screenwriter James Ivory, who would win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, groused about its lack of nudity). And unlike director Luca Guadagnino's over-the-top, operatic I Am Love from 2009, this effort was more languid, sapping it of carnal fervor.
The reason for my disappointment was largely due to what I felt was a lack of chemistry between Elio and Oliver; their connection didn't ring true. Furthermore, I didn't get a gay vibe from Oliver. In my mind he came across as a player whose motivation was deflowering Elio, who served as a conquest. (In fact, Oliver's demeanor, and even his appearance, somewhat reminded me of Mad Men's Don Draper.) And Oliver didn't seem like a 24-year-old grad student, but, rather, more like the real age of the actor who portrayed him, 31-year-old Armie Hammer. (Perhaps this was why he was overlooked for an Oscar nomination.)
Nor did I detect much in the way of sexual tension between Elio and Oliver, which was in stark contrast to the smoldering relationship between Johnny and Gheorghe, the two main characters, in God's Own Country, which opened a few months before Call Me By Your Name. It was also critically acclaimed, but without the buzz of Name (however, in the UK it won the British Independent Film Award for Best Picture). And the $375,000 it made in its four-month run in the US was less than what Name grossed in its first weekend ($400,000 in just four theaters).
With Call Me set in 1983 it had me thinking about the devastating early years of the AIDS crisis in the US (which was never mentioned in the movie). I pondered how it might impact Elio's and Oliver's lives in a few years. With Elio being new to gay sex would he be cautious and fearful? Once Oliver was married would he be living life on the DL and risk the health of his wife?
The highlight of the movie came during the closing credits as Elio is shown weeping silently as he gazes into the flames of the fireplace in the home of his parents. His tears came after Oliver phoned him with the news of his engagement to his girlfriend. Enhancing this tender scene was the gently captivating song Gates of Gideon by Sufjan Stevens. This scene brought to mind the closing minutes of Michael Clayton, which showed George Clooney's character sitting in the back of a taxi going through Manhattan after his dramatic take down of Tilda Swinton's murderous corporate attorney (but no tears were shed).
Finally, in what may have been a first, three other gay-themed movies were out at the same time as Call Me By Your Name: God's Own Country, BPM, and Tom of Finland. And although none of these movies was ever in more than 20 theaters, nonetheless, it seemed like an embarrassment of riches. (However, in April the movie Love, Simon was released in more than 2,400 theaters, selling more tickets in its first two weeks than Call Me By Your Name did in its entire run.)