Well, I made it through to the end at last, and man, am I glad! It DID get better!
At exactly 1:57:00 on the Blu-ray, when Elio and his father meet in the library, an entirely new movie starts, and it is fabulously, fantastically, spectacularly, amazingly good. Perfect, in fact. Moviemaking cannot get any better than that. If the first part had been even half that good I'd have loved the whole movie and enthusiastically given it at least 8 stars.
Now I understand why Chalamet was nominated for an Oscar (the first two hours give no clue) and marvel that he didn't win. Now I understand why the movie and the director were nominated and why Ivory won. It's pretty amazing that the last 15 minutes could be so much better than the 117 minutes that came before.
I stand by every word of my original review (so I'm leaving it unedited below, and I think I'm going to leave the one-star rating), because it perfectly says what's wrong with the bulk of this movie. That's too bad, because some people won't press through all of that to get to the good part.
So I would advise anybody who has ANY problem with this movie -- whether it's a personal, aesthetic and artistic problem like mine or a moral problem with the subject matter -- to skip the entire first part, all the way to 1:57:00, and watch the remaining 15 minutes to the very end. Do NOT stop when the end credits start to roll, or you will miss some of the finest acting you will ever see.
The last 15 minutes are completely self sufficient; there's no need to know what came before -- in fact, you'd be better off NOT knowing. This is still really crappy as a gay movie, there is still no credible chemistry between Chalamet and Hammer, but that's irrelevant in the last 15 minutes. The dialog in just those final scenes gives you all the information you need and makes the relationship completely credible after the first two hours failed to.
The fact that the first 90% of the movie is bad is no problem after all, because you don't have to watch it. At the first urge to hit STOP or FAST-FORWARD, just FF all the way to 1:57:00 and enjoy 15 minutes of the best movie you've seen in a long, long time.
Dead at its erotic core, and Elio is obnoxious
Call Me by Your Name reminds me of Brokeback Mountain, because they both seem to me like movies made about gay men but by straight people and for straight audiences. In both cases, though, the characters aren't actually gay men but straight men who experience spastic episodes of gay-like behavior, which is one of my chief problems with both movies.
I love James Ivory, but he should have won Oscars for writing and directing Maurice -- the first unhomophobic mainstream gay movie ever made and 30+ years later still the best gay movie ever made -- instead of for writing Call Me, but it's typical of the Oscars to award the right person in the wrong year for the wrong movie.
Hollywood is full of morons, but occasionally they accidentally get something halfway right, like a roomful of monkeys eventually pecking out Hamlet on a typewriter if you give them a trillion years to do it. Ivory included Ismael Merchant and Ruth Jhabvala in his acceptance speech even though both were dead and had nothing to do with Call Me, so he realized he was getting the award, at least in part, for the wrong movie.
Two things bother me about Call Me, one trivial and one not. The trivial one is entirely James Ivory's fault, because it's something that's in the movie's screenplay but not in the book. It's the way Elio and his friends and relations switch effortlessly and fluently -- often several times within a single conversation -- between English, French, Italian and German (in the book, it's all English with a little Italian, since it's in Italy).
That IMMEDIATELY elevates the characters beyond reach and alienates the audience, because normal 16-year-olds (or 70-year-olds) CANNOT speak four languages so fluently that they can start a sentence in one language and flit at will in and out of the other three languages before they get to the end of the sentence, without even taking a breath. It made me hate Elio before he'd even done anything. What a privileged, obnoxious brat!
The second thing that bothers me about Call Me is exactly what bothers me most about Brokeback Mountain. It's that the sexual attraction between the two men is completely unbelievable.
In both cases (Call Me better than Brokeback) the actors go through the motions PERFECTLY, doing everything they ought to be doing exactly as they ought to be doing it, but it leaves me feeling as cold and dead as a dead fish. Nothing they do resonates with the part of me that resonates with sexual attraction. What they do LOOKS authentic, but it FEELS completely false. Empty, Cold, Mechanical. Expertly choreographed and performed, but lacking even a tiny spark of the relentless, consuming fire that drives real sex.
I would say that it's because the actors, in both movies, are completely straight (which they are), and that it's just impossible for ANY straight actor to get gay sexual attraction exactly right, making it feel real and alive and inescapable. But that obviously is not true, and, again, it's Maurice that proves it.
James Wilby and Rupert Graves both are completely straight, but the fire between them onscreen in Maurice is REAL, so real it's almost scary, but very wonderful. FINALLY I'm seeing on a movie screen what I feel inside and have NEVER seen onscreen before (or since). James Ivory got that from those two straight actors in Maurice, but it's completely lacking in the two more recent movies.
It makes it worse that the two actors in Call Me are extraordinarily beautiful men, while neither Keith Ledger nor Jake Gyllenhaal is. Ugly men making out can't be expected to be very sexy, but men as beautiful as Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet making out OUGHT to be sexy just BECAUSE they're so beautiful; so when it's not, the disappointment is much greater.
I should admit now that I haven't finished watching Call Me yet, although I bought the disc and started watching it almost three months ago, on March 13. I still have more than a half-hour left to watch out of the 2+ hour movie -- so I've averaged watching one minute of it every day for 90 days, although actually in spasmodic chunks of 3-5 minutes each.
The infuriating multilingual conversations and the erotic deadness at its heart make me so angry that I can take only a few minutes of it at a time. So it's possible that it gets a lot better before the end, but I doubt it. Struggling through that movie is for me like climbing Mount Everest in a blizzard; it will be a miracle if I ever actually make it all the way to the end.
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