I very much wanted to like this movie more. It is from the directorial hands of Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash), who has a wonderful sense of humanity and a love of Italy, food, and all things sensual. It has some great actors, including two who have the incredible fortune to each be in more than one of the top talked-about films of the year. Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water) and Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird) must be thanking whatever gods they pray too for their luck. Chalamet even has one more to go this awards season: Hostiles.
Most of the acting in this movie is very solid. Stuhlbarg is a quiet force on screen. He hangs mostly in the background orchestrating and bridging the action. And Armie Hammer (Free Fire), though subtle in a very different way, was particularly effective. His is a role that takes some acceptance, but it is both provocative and painful to watch.
Unfortunately, in the lead role, I found Chalamet less compelling. He is alternately believable and not, at least for me. I think where it failed me was in Ivory’s (Maurice) script. There is a surety and a bravado to both men that feels right for Hammer, but wrong for the younger Chalamet. I never understood who Chalamet was before Hammer showed up. I don’t get the sense of a young man coming to terms with himself or even feeling the depths of emotion that he claims…at least not till the end. The entire success of the film really all comes down to the last two scenes, but to get there you have to navigate close to two hours of rather uneven story.
Ultimately, this just isn’t the solid journey of Guadagnino’s other work. As beautifully filmed and subtly directed as it is, Guadagnino struggled with the shape of the tale. The pieces and steps getting from point A to point B are full of gaps. His choices and use of music were also jarring and, frankly, artistically confusing given the opening credits and setup.
And, oddly, the story is also massively untouched by the AIDS crisis, which was sweeping world culture by 1983 (yes, yet another story from the 80s, but that’s a different conversation). Even if Chalamet’s family was slow to hear about the crisis (doubtful in an academic family), Hammer was coming from America where things were becoming truly horrific. Admittedly the story isn’t about that; it is an internal tale of first love and growing up, but it did strike me as a missing eddy in the choices being made. Given that the source book was written far enough after the years of the setting for there to be perspective, it is disappointing.
And now I’m sounding like I disliked the film, which I did not. I was rather taken with it on a moment-by-moment basis. It was the whole that didn’t quite gel for me. I can see why it resonates for many people. The story transcends any particular sexuality. It is about the emotions and realities of modern life in a global world. It is, most importantly, about feeling and embracing life, regardless of where it takes you.
So, yes, see Call Me By Your Name. You will be hearing a lot more about the movie through awards season, so you might as well educate yourself in it so you can make up your own mind. You may well disagree with me on the character journeys. I can only bring my own perspective to the experience, you will have yours. You won’t be sorry you invested the time, but you’ll likely have to consider the hype and final result on your own.