Just Don't - Call Me By Your Name

Just Don't - Call Me By Your Name

Reviews like this one are difficult. When there is so much talent involved and everyone is doing more or less wonderful work, it would seem easy to heap bundles of praise onto the finished product. But when the idea they are working from is so deeply flawed, it is hard to evaluate it without heavy doses of skepticism. With a few minor changes, Call Me By Your Name could be a wholly different experience. Instead of cringe-inducing, it would touch hearts in the way it intends to. Instead of being some tortured endorsement of ancient Greco-Roman sexual ideals, it could be the pure reduction of the essence of love the way it intends to. I can't say I don't understand what they were trying to do here, but I can say that it didn't quite work for me. 

Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Elio (played by Timotheé Chalamet) is a 17 year-old boy living in the Italian countryside with his parents. His father, an archaeologist, hosts one of his graduate students, Oliver (played by Armie Hammer), for the summer. After weeks of platonic co-existence, Elio and Oliver begin a romantic relationship. Elio's parents turn a blind eye as the two grow closer and closer and Elio undergoes a self-discovery process under the tutelage of this older man. 

It is possible to feel like what you are watching is the progressive treatment of same-sex love as just love. But with all of the allusions ancient traditions and the characters' acknowledgement that the relationship might be 'off,' it was hard not to feel like there was at least something predatory happening. Through that lens, many of the moments that are meant to hit certain notes hit other ones. Many of the characters who are meant to come off one way come off another. When the credits roll with the final emotionally impactful shot, it is hard to imagine the audience not being divided--with some feeling like they have witnessed pure love and some feeling like they have watched something much less pure. Whether the respective ages of these characters bothers you is the single biggest driver or which camp you end up falling into. 

Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

With the age question aside, a star is born here. Timotheé Chalamet, as the underaged boy discovering himself and how deeply one can fall in love, is worth the price of admission. He perfectly captures Elio's immaturity, vulnerability and uncertainty. There are so many moments that seem so much more organic because of the way he lives in this role. The effectiveness of that childlike portrayal only serves to deepen the dissonance I experienced watching this child fall in love with an adult, but it is hard to argue his performance itself was anything less than sublime. 

The film spends so much effort focusing on the age and maturity difference that it seems disingenuous to say it is beside the point. And if it's a fact that bothers you, you may have a hard time embracing this one--regardless of how good Chalamet is. 

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