Tag Archives: Oscars

Post #124: Dallas Buyer’s Club

hr_Dallas_Buyers_Club_10I know I’m not alone when I declare it was a great year for film this past year, and I’ve been seeing more movies than usual, trying to make my way through the Best Picture Nominees . I’ve seen everything but Philomena and American Hustle. I caught The Wolf Of Wall Street the other night and felt an odd confluence of enthrallment and boredom, and then, after seeing Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey sweep the acting awards at the Oscars the other night, watched Dallas Buyer’s Club last night. I didn’t know much about the latter, only that it was about AIDS and that the performances were supposed to be magnificent.

Now, because I’m a loser I not only watched the Oscars but read the day after critiques of the speeches and hosting, and yes, looked at all the candid and red carpet photos I could find. Like many, in my day after investigation, I stumbled into poignant reactions to both Leto’s speech for Best Supporting Actor and McConaughey’s for Best Actor. One writer declared Leto’s an improvement over his Golden Globes speech, during which, apparently, he came across like a pretentious ass and paid no homage to those afflicted with or victims of AIDS, or to the trans or queer community, to which he is obviously indebted since he plays a trans character in Dallas Buyer’s Club. His Oscar speech was rambling, but really interesting. He gave his mother an extended nod, and also got political, drawing attention to current unrest in the Ukraine. Still–and I’ll admit I didn’t even notice when watching live–I read the next day about the fact that he didn’t mention the queer community at all. Didn’t seem like a major offense, given the intensity of the moment and the time pressure when you’re up there in front of a billion people world wide. But interesting all the same. I wonder here about responsibility. Lupita Nyong’o, in her speech for Best Supporting Actress, spoke movingly about Patsy, the real life slave on which her 12 Years a Slave character was based. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something about how she knew the sad irony of so much joy entering her life because of so much pain having been in someone else’s. It was a lovely sentiment, and very appropriate. And yet, I think it’s a little heavy handed to get in a tizzy about who a big shot actor does or doesn’t thank at the Oscars. Let’s not get too carried away and go pretending that any of these people are humble.

McConaughey’s Best Actor speech I missed because I’d fallen asleep, but I watched it the next morning and was entertained by how scripted and prepared he sounded–not disingenuous, just ready–but this time I did notice his lack of mentioning of either the real man he portrayed in the film, who died of AIDS in 1992, or those who’ve been afflicted by the disease. He talked about God, his family, and himself. He basically said that he was his own hero, which was weird, but I think I knew what he meant. Again, not a major offense, and in some ways, who really gives a shit, right? It’s the Oscars, why are we even having this conversation?

So, anyway, I watched Dallas Buyer’s Club last night. It’s good. It didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, but it’s a really powerful film that tells the story of a straight man’s man in Texas, an avowed homophobe, who’s afflicted with AIDS because of loose sex and drug use and given only thirty days to live. He lives far longer than that. When he realizes that the AZT the hospital is giving him is actually toxic to his system, he seeks unapproved but better drugs elsewhere–Mexico, Israel, Amsterdam–and his short term health improves. What’s more, he start’s a “Buyer’s Club” in which other AIDS patients can buy a membership and obtain the drugs and supplements they need that are better for them than those approved by the FDA and being given to them by real doctors. The trick is that none of the products he’s selling are FDA approved, and that’s where the trouble starts, and why we today know Woodruff’s name and, presumably, why his story was made into a feature film.

And yes, the performances are top shelf. Both actors immerse themselves in the material.

My only trouble with the film was the nagging feeling that I’d seen it before. Shortly after becoming ill, Woodruff befriends Rayon, a gay male ported by Leto, and one can predict that Rayon, who seems to forgive Woodruff his gruff machismo and aggressive homophobia, will be the moral center of the film. One can also predict that this friendship will make Woodruff a different man and that he’ll become more gay friendly in the process and realize how false he’s been living and all that. Now, I don’t know what happened in real life with these human beings. The film has gotten some flack for overdoing it, suggesting that the real life Woodruff was probably bisexual and certainly not the almost comically grand gay hater that the movie makes him out to be in the opening third. One is left wondering if the set up is as such so that his transformation can seem all the more compelling. More, shall we say, Hollywood.

I was reminded of a headline I’d seen on the Huffpos a few weeks ago urging the Academy Awards NOT to give Dallas Buyer’s Club any Oscars. Seemed odd. I didn’t read the article then because I wanted to see the film and wanted to avoid spoilers, but I went back and found it and gave it a glance this morning. You can check it out here. In fact, do that, then come back.

Personally, I find Mirkinson’s tactics a little heavy handed in suggesting that DBC is actually a milquetoast film that plays it safe for straight America and doesn’t properly acknowledge the gay or queer community. He takes the film to task for Rayon’s character being thin and too morally “right,” a prop, he accuses, so that Woodruff, the safer straight character, can achieve the moral victory that audiences need in order to feel good about themselves. Basically, he calls the movie chicken shit, and suggests that it shouldn’t win any Oscars because it tells the tamest possible version of its own story.

I’m not suggesting Mirkinson’s fully correct here, but I do think he makes some powerful points about the filmmaker’s intentions, and one’s that are nearly worthy of the weight of his criticism. One point on which I disagree with him is that Rayon’s character is paper thin. I found the character compelling, and though I saw it coming, when Woodruff grows as a man and their friendship becomes more genuine, and more urgent, I felt something. I also wonder if he’s a tad naive here. The idea that Hollywood waters stories down to make them more palatable to mass, white, straight audiences seems just a tad self-evident to warrant such vitriol. And would Mirkinson rather the film NOT have been made at all? It’s story is still an important one. And yet, it’s hard not to applaud his gusto. And so I do.

Post #115: Resolution?

Blue-JasmineBlue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s new film, is one of the darkest and more compelling films  I can remember seeing. Though he’s primarily known as a comedian, Woody does dark exceptionally well. And more often than you might expect. If you’ve never seen Crimes and Misdemeanors, or its more recent alter-ego Match Point, you are missing out on the haunted, and often violent, places Woody likes to tread as he mines his short list of themes, compiling the broadest and most prolific filmography in American history.

Spoiler Alert! Plot details and revelations about Blue Jasmine follow. You’ve been warned.

Cate Blanchett’s powerhouse performance as Jasmine has been getting all the attention, and is surely the reason Blue Jasmine has been at our local theater in downtown Burlington for well over a month now. And make no mistake, she is Oscar caliber awesome. Almost overwhelming. But after taking in the movie last night, I was and remain most struck not by its many quality performances and beautiful cinematography, but by its dramatically unresolved ending. If you know his work, you know Woody Allen is a sucker for endings. Usually, regardless of theme or tone, Allen’s films find their way to a stopping point, which finds the characters not necessarily always redeemed or forgiven or changed, but at least settled in some form. He’s dabbled in unresolvedness before (I’m thinking here of Celebrity and Deconstructing Harry), but I’m not sure he’s ever left a character, or his audience, hanging quite like he leaves Jasmine on a park bench.

Jasmine is down and out. Her life as a Park Avenue wife goes tits up when her financier husband (played by Alec Baldwin) proves to be not only cheating on her, but cheating on his clients. He’s arrested, humiliated, and eventually commits suicide in prison. Jasmine loses all her money, and then begins to lose her mind. We meet Jasmine when she arrives in San Francisco to shack up with her sister, Ginger, a grocery store clerk who Jasmine has ignored for years. As Jasmine tries to get her life back together in Frisco, we gradually learn the full story of her New York demise through a series of flashbacks. It feels like a set-up for a redemption story.

We keep waiting to find out what will happen to Jasmine. How will she change? What will finally make her learn her lesson? Even as she guzzles vodka and pops anti-depressents, her self-muttering growing worse and worse, we still wait to see what’s going to trigger a change in her. She meets a new man, a wealthy guy who hopes for a future in politics, but after Jasmine is caught in a series of lies about her past, he drops her and plunges her back into her alcoholic misery. And still we wait for the resolution. As audience members, we’re conditioned to find out what happens, so much so that it comes to seem like an unspoken agreement between creator and audience. Take us anywhere you want, we think, do whatever suits you to these characters, just tell us how it all turns out. When this doesn’t happen, it’s unsettling and a breach of the unspoken pact. And that’s what Allen does here.

It’s hard to tell if Allen just ran out of ideas or if the lack of resolution is a broader commentary on a species (the rich and selfish) for whom he has trouble finding redemption. The third act for Jasmine never arrives. Her life is ruined, she tries to put it back together, and then…what? Then nothing. The film ends with Jasmine muttering to herself on a bench with little indication of where she’s headed.

Of course, it’s not completely unresolved. Even the lack of resolution is its own form of resolution. In truth, all the evidence points to Jasmine’s continued demise, either suicide, homelessness, or just soul losing insanity. What else are we to think? She continues to be horrible and judgmental of her kind hearted sister even up to the film’s final scenes. She continues to abuse her body with alcohol and Prozac. She slips further away from any corners she can turn. She never learns. She never grows. She becomes more embittered. Less wise. Less sane. And that’s where Woody leaves her, dangling in our imaginations, left to direct her third act on our own. He points us, then back away and lets it play out in our minds.

I still feel a bit haunted. I think you will too.