Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Normal Heart: Movie Review

A story of the human heart.

“The Normal Heart” is the fictionalized, feature film version of “How to Survive a Plague” (2012, documentary) which features Larry Kramer and his fellow gay activists. This HBO film is based on the same-titled play written by Larry Kramer and features fictional characters based on him and his fellow gay activists set in 1980s during the rise of AIDs crisis.   2014

Directed by: Ryan Murphy

Screenplay by: Larry Kramer

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer

This film takes an earlier stance than most of the other films showing the fight against AIDs. Starting in 1981, the disease didn’t have a name, it didn’t have a cause, it didn’t have a form, and it didn’t have a rate of transmission, but it did have a stigma. Early on we meet Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts) an interesting hardened but sympathetic doctor who has identified it as a cancer prevalent among gay men who have sex with one another. She’s entirely on her own battling the hospital, battling the gay men in denial, and battling the gay men who don’t care.

Our main character, on the other hand, Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) does care. He doesn’t know much but he rallies a few fellow activists to do what they can. Part of the issue with this film, is that they take very little time establishing the supporting characters but then give them significant screen time vocalizing their cause after we know of them, but don’t actually know them. That type of format works better in a documentary, but here it shows the structural issues the film has and adds to the bloated run-time.

But at the center of the film, is its heart, and that’s where it really shines. Ned tracks down a closeted New York Times reporter Felix Turner (Matt Bomer) whom he would like to help him get the word out. But instead, as the universe has a tendency of doing, they fall in love at first sight (although actually as it turns out, second sight). It was a beautiful relationship, and every time Felix wasn’t on screen, I got really nervous about his and their future. This is no small part because of Ruffalo and Bomer’s performance. A recently-out gay actor who made a name for himself as the incredibly handsome and charismatic con-man in “White Collar”, Bomer traded in some of his looks for an abundance of emotional vulnerability and captured viewers’ hearts as well as Ned’s.

The other relationship which the film handled so well was that between Ned and his straight brother Ben (Alfred Molina). The mostly professional relationship between Ned and Dr. Brookner had this beautiful simplicity. This, along with Ned’s other personal relationships, helped highlight why this film worked better as a story of the human heart rather than as a tale of beaucratic red tape which other good films have told.

Similar Titles:

How To Survive a Plague (2012) - In some cases, words and actions can save a million lives.

Dallas Buyers Club (2013) - A character with conflicting ideals provides a drama with charm and humour.