Released: 26th December 2017 (Australia)
Seen: 31st January 2018
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Written by: James Ivory
Produced by: Frenesy Film Company, La Cinéfacture, RT Features, Water’s End Productions & M.Y.R.A. Entertainment
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg & Amira Casar
One of the big regrets I had last year when I wrote my year-end list was that I missed out on seeing Call Me By Your Name
in the short period of time between release and when the list went up. This was one that I would’ve needed to travel to Bondi for, it would’ve been a full day out and I’d of had to deal with Sydney trains and in the end, it didn’t seem worth the time and expense that trip would cost me when I knew that it would eventually be screened more locally. I kicked myself for that decision though because I was so sure that when I finally saw this film that I would think “Damn, this would have been on my Best of 2017 List
without a doubt”. I’d heard every review and each whispered claim of how this was such a great romantic movie that was beautiful in every way with a grand love story and gripping script… did we watch the same film?
Call Me By Your Name follows Elio (Played by Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old living with his parent’s at their vacation home in Italy. While there, his father hired a man named Oliver (Played by Armie Hammer) to stay with them and help with some academic work. What follows is a slow building love story set in 1983 Italy where we see the two men of wildly contrasting ages slowly come together, discover their feelings, and then act upon them. However what should be a romantic story about two men who are forced into the shadows is, in reality, a story about two guys who hook up with no real consequences other than the ones they imagine to be there.
Good stuff out of the way first, the lead actors in this movie are just amazing. Armie Hammer just carries so much of this film with his charm that makes you understand instantly why everyone seems to fall in love with him and scenes he shared with Timothée are some of the most precious things. I’m honestly stunned that he isn’t nominated for an Oscar because I have no doubt in my mind that his scenes with Timothée are why his co-star has the nomination. Timothée creates a pretty complicated character, someone trying to deny his sexuality and slowly giving into it and learning about himself, he has some truly great scenes that elevate the material to great heights. There’s an awkward innocence with him that works wonderfully. In fact, both leads (When they’re sharing a scene together) have this pure sweet innocence that oozes more charm than the filmmakers know how to deal with. However, they do not get the best supporting cast. Most of the other actors are fine, doing their job but when there are scenes with Elio’s father (Played by Michael Stuhlbarg) he is so awkward and uncomfortably hammy that I genuinely just do not like his performance. There’s something lacking there that just distracts so much from the central plotline… a plot which is flawed for one reason.
There is literally no reason whatsoever why the two main characters can’t be together. None. Literally, there is no problem here. The age thing? Yeah, in a very early scene, Elio brings up the idea of having sex and no one objects (Possibly because the age of consent in Italy at the time was 14 so there is no problem here for these characters in this situation). Is it that homosexuality isn’t accepted in that location? No, Italy was insanely progressive for the time and actually legalised homosexual relations in 1890, there’s no hint of homophobia anywhere in this location (At least, in the world of this specific story). What about the parents? Were they homophobic? Nope, there’s a gay couple in this movie who come in and by their very existence remove any idea that Elio and Oliver can’t be together because of Elio’s parents. Heck, his mother seems to actively endorse it at one point. There is no reason whatsoever why they cannot be together. They tap dance around each other for no reason, they sneak around for no reason. All they had to do was imply that Elio was worried that his parents wouldn’t accept this relationship and boom, we have a reason to sneak around. We never get that. We also don’t get “Well, it’s his first relationship. He’s scared of sex” because he literally has sex with a woman on screen twice before he even kisses Oliver… so why am I meant to worry about their relationship?
Speaking of the sex with a woman thing, this gay romance film sure is heavy on the heteronormativity. Elio has to be in a heterosexual relationship at the start, Oliver must be flirting with the women in town. If you didn’t know better, you’d say these were straight men who had a wild tryst… you know, like Brokeback Mountain except Brokeback actually had the balls to go all out and make the story about how the expectation to be straight was what kept them apart. This doesn’t, it’s like a light switch and it’s so poorly done. This is a problem at the script level, it’s something that could be fixed by having both of them give one uncomfortable look but it’s not. This is a story that absolutely can work. You know how I know it works? Cos I watched it for 5 years when it was on TV and called Queer as Folk. This is just a mild variation of the Justin & Brian storyline, except Justin’s personality is in the older character and Brian’s is in the younger one. It’s the same beats, the same awkwardness, the same genuine moments of romance… except in the Queer as Folk version of the story, there are outside forces keeping them apart. Their age is an actual issue because they’re in America and thus the age of consent is an issue. The parents are an issue because Justin’s father was a raging homophobe and it created an actual conflict. There is no conflict here, none that can’t be solved by a 2-second conversation anyway. If our main characters had some kind of actual conflict then we’d be set, but they don’t which is a shame because the film works best when it’s just our two leads, their chemistry is amazing and could’ve used some conflict to make their scenes even better but they don’t really have much to work with.
I also have a major problem with whoever was handling the sound edit for this film because… seriously, no. If your background noise is drowning out a conversation that’s between our leads and it’s clearly important in some way, go back and fix that. There’s a scene where a door is loudly banging against the wall in the wind, but we never see the door. It’s not a factor in the scene, no one thought to just fix that in the edit. The music in this film is just irritating, and by that, I mean that it’s abrupt sudden sharp stops for no reason are annoying. This may be a personal pet peeve but if you have a loud song that it pushing the emotion of your story and you decided to cut it out sharply in the middle of a scene, have a reason to do that. This film didn’t.
Also whoever handled the cinematography loves some wide shots with the characters off in the distance, and they love some random insert shots that mean absolutely nothing. There are not many visually interesting shots here, and I know it’s possible to do visually interesting shots in these locations because one scene takes place in the same location as a scene from All The Money In The World
so I have seen someone find a way to make visually interesting shots… maybe try doing that sometime.
I did not hate this film. I didn’t, I think it’s a very nice film with some stellar performances by its leads. I honestly am hoping they make the sequel that they have talked about… but the problems with the story of the film and it’s visual and audio missteps sadly make me feel that this is less of a great film and more of a good one. I hope they improve the next time because we need more quality LGBT cinema and this was not as much of a peachy film as I hoped it would be.