Title: The Normal Heart
Director: Ryan Murphy
Writer: Larry Kramer
Music: Cliff Martinez
Cinematography: Daniel Moder
Adam B. Shapiro
The last film I watch in 2014 is Ryan Murphy’s much hyped HBO TV movie, a sob-fest chronicles the life of a gay activist Ned Weeks (Ruffalo) during the inception of HIV epidemic in the 80s.
Kick-starting in a flamboyant beach shindig in Fire Island to celebrate Ned’s ex-boyfriend Craig (Groff)’s B-day, the film cunningly put Ned’s wallflower awkwardness in the foreground among all the alluring parade of the gay sub-culture, right after the sexual revolution. But the gleeful hedonism doesn’t stick, Craig’s faint spell suggests a new kind of hazard will prey on the minority group and as we know it – it has haunting the world ever since.
Ned, as a screen proxy of the writer Larry Kramer, is an out-and-out advocate of complete coming-out and an adamant fighter, all for a well-intended cause, but his attitude of absolutisation reveals the biggest flaw in his personality, which puts him in sheer contrast with Bruce Niles (Kitsch), Craig’s boyfriend and the president of GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) organisation, a gorgeous blond hasn’t outed yet. Murphy and Kramer launches a friend-or-foe tug-of-war between Ned and Bruce, keeps the undercurrent running tepidly without choosing sides. Ned’s radical remarks on TV and his uncompromising modus operandi is thrilling for showboating, but it is a far cry from a mature political strategy to get things on their right tracks; meanwhile, the film doesn’t give enough lucid information of the decisions made from Bruce’s side since the whole story is narrated from Ned’s POV, which makes the plot twist of Ned’s dismissal a bit arbitrary although one cannot argue he should have seen it coming.
Prominently, the film is inundated with poignant speeches and melodramatic moments, each of the main cast dominates their spotlight in staunch virtuosity, starting from supporting actors, Bomer as Felix Turner, a Times journalist and Ned’s boyfriend, a too-good-to-be-true prince charming for Kramer in real life (he takes the initiative while Ned is clearly oblivious of him after a hookup in the darkness, oh gosh, how can anyone forget someone as yummy as Bomer, even in the pitch black, it is pure baloney!), is utterly heartbreaking to watch in his startling physical transformation as a HIV patient in his last days, likened to Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013), the weight-loss trick works again, moreover, Bomer hits the perfect note when facing Ruffalo in their intimate time, up to their final wedding scenes, it can easily strikes one’s soft spot.
Joe Mantello, a famous Broadway director, plays Micky Marcus, Ned’s friend and college in GMHC, not a familiar face in front of the camera, but he totally nails his imploding monologue with multiple layers of emotions, a bona-fide showstopper with sharp empathy and arouse heartfelt admiration. Jim Parsons, is another surprise, conveys his role Tommy Boatwright, the executive director of GMHC, with subdued nuances, his eulogy to a deceased friend is another highlight in the movie, really he has liberated himself from the persistent screen-image as Sheldon Cooper (he is also the only cast member from the original play to reprise his role). Also worth mentioning is Alfred Molina, plays Ben, Ned’s loving brother, brings a different standpoint from a straight man, not the usual apathy or aversion, instead he is quite open to Ned’s sexuality and supports him unconditionally, but one barrier is always there to keep him from accepting him as an equal, which points out as an astute reality check.
Julia Roberts, de-glamorises herself as the wheelchair-bound doctor Emma Brookner, who represents the righteous core of the line of work, fights against the bureaucratic inhumanity and social bias, Roberts gives a galvanising performance especially in her showdown time with the evil side of her peer. Also connects her polio situation with the rampant AIDS aggression – it is just a virus and no one has polio now. Finally, our hero Ned, Mark Ruffalo acts against his usual amiability, and imbues a whiff of waywardness attached to a very assertive approach, often he is upstaged by his more plot-driven co-stars, nevertheless, it is undeniable that he superlatively makes Ned a real human out of the exhausting bereavement overload.
Frankly speaking, the film feels too much reckoning on the fine-tuned character study from its sterling thespians, while the focal point of gay politics is basically being overshadowed or over-simplified, as it is always easier to re-enact past stories since viewers have already grasped the gist beforehand, the film serves only to cherry-pick certain affecting episodes to impress and preach. But still this is an urgent issue needs to be disseminated and reach as many people as possible, to edify and impress, to extol unbiased love, on these grounds, one must give Murphy and his team a big thumb up.