Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Cinema has embraced the basic premise of Romeo and Juliet in many shapes and forms over the decades; the idea of lovers separated by rules and/or class has been seen on screens in titles like TITANIC, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and KING KONG…with love being the justification for all actions by man, woman, and beast. For director Luca Guadagnino and his love story CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, love is certainly the message he wants to press, and absolutely nothing else matters.

Oliver (Armie Hammer) is a 24-year-old doctoral student who spends a summer as an intern at a professor’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) family home in southern Italy, and begins a love affair with Elio (Timothee Chalamet), the professor’s 17-year-old son.

Light on plot and heavy on character, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME spends most of its time with Oliver and Elio, as they meet, argue, feud, and eventually begin a sexually-charged affair. Most of the film shows us the two in their down-time (of which Oliver seems to have a lot of for someone working on a doctorate), lazily spending the summer Italy heat at swimming holes and bicycle paths.

Forbidden love isn’t the obstacle Oliver and Elio have to overcome as much as coming to grips with their feelings, and while that is still familiar territory, the idea of a man actively showing interest in a 17-year-old boy is the new element. A young man crushing on someone older is quite natural, but Oliver comes off as a creep right away…hitting on the kid almost immediately after he arrives at the family home. The age difference between the two is what makes their love questionable (yes it’s Italy where the rules may be different, but Oliver is an American and so is Elio’s father), and neither character bothers to grapple with the morality of it. No one seems to think that their affair is wrong, not even the parents (slight spoiler: they know the whole time and are cool with it), and the film just winds up with a creep-factor to it.

While Luca Guadagnino is busy justifying having sex with underage boys and showing us what a boy does in his bedroom when he’s alone, he’s also editing a joyless slog. Pacing is brutal and the film feels like it’s 900 hours long. There is also no buildup towards anything; no real climax or arc for any character and the film just seems to run out of things to do. The countryside of Italy is presented beautifully and the film works better as a tour-guide video than an actual story. But nicely re-created is the time-period; the clothes, music, and styles of 1983 look and work great.

Acting is all over the place. Armie Hammer is as one-note as his character; just bland and one-dimensional and nothing for him to work with as no explanation is given for his desires. Timothee Chalamet on the other hand is very good, getting the most work to do as a confused boy, and his emotional turmoil at the very end of the film is executed beautifully. Michael Stuhlbarg is excellent as always.

The two things that make a forbidden love story work are (a) making us want the characters to be together, and (b) dire consequences for their actions. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME has zero consequences as every creep in the film is OK with it, and the age difference between the two lovers is hard to get our heads around. The message that the film is pushing is love, but it’s also saying that love justifies men sleeping with boys as long as it happens in Italy. And with the lack of anything for the characters to overcome, the film shoots blanks in all directions. Everything about this movie is wrong.


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