Published on March 12th, 2018 | by Craig Silliphant0
Call Me by Your Name
Everyone loves Call Me by Your Name, except for me and critic Tasha Robinson. It’s not a bad movie, it just wasn’t a ‘great’ film.
Film critic Tasha Robinson on Letterbox’d, writing about Call Me by Your Name:
“Sign me up as the apostate that just doesn’t appreciate this one, that doesn’t really understand why a long, rambling, sleepy movie about a disconnected, disaffected, insanely rich and privileged teenager moping around until he gets laid is so moving to people. There are better romances, better gay coming-of-age movies, better summer-fling stories, and movies where I don’t get really really distracted by watching a dude gut a peach in his bed with his bare hands and then fuck it, making an immense mess for someone else to clean up. I will fight the world on this one.”
I have to say, I am mostly with Robinson on this one. I mean, I don’t have a problem with the fact that the characters are privileged. After all, love stories can happen to anyone, regardless of class. To wipe that away because of current politics is folly. But I do agree that it rambles and lurches along and that there are better movies about all these thematic topics.
Call Me by Your Name was directed by Luca Guadagnino, featuring an Oscar-winning screenplay by James Ivory, based on the book by Andre Aciman. It’s the story of Elio, a 17-year old Jewish American-Italian boy who has a courtship with Oliver, his father’s 24-year old research assistant, all against the backdrop of the beautiful Italian countryside in 1983.
I said I agreed with Robinson, but that isn’t to say that I think this is a terrible movie, by any means. It has a lot of great qualities, beyond the majesty of the Italian sunshine. The cast shines brighter; Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer embody their characters well and anchor the film superbly. Michael Stuhlbarg has a smaller role as Elio’s father, but once again shows why he’s one of the best character actors working today.
The music also plays an important part, both in terms of the piano tracks and how they relate to Elio’s playing, as well as Suftjan Stevens doing some of the best work he’s done in years, with several songs on the soundtrack. And songs like ‘Love My Way,’ by The Psychedelic Furs features prominently, both as a metaphor within the movie and as a marker of the era we’re inhabiting.
This all sounds amazing on paper — so, what’s my goddamn problem then?
One of the things the movie does well is also the thing that disconnected me from it. It’s a subtle and restrained movie, which is good. A lot of movies like this would veer into overly sentimental and passionate territory. Like, movie passionate. Like, screaming a declaration of love angrily in the pouring rain and falling into each other’s arms. Like, The Notebook or something. I’m glad that the film doesn’t do this — but it goes way too far in the other direction.
The first hour is the least obvious courting in history. At one point I realized that if I hadn’t known what the movie was about from the synopsis, I’d have no idea they were seducing each other. I don’t mind a deliberate pace, but Robinson wasn’t kidding when she called it “rambling and sleepy.”
I also realized I was churning up questions that were pulling me out of the movie in certain scenes. At one point, Oliver and Elio are making more overt moves, but Oliver refuses to take it further. There are plenty of possible reasons for this — he’s afraid of being gay, he works for the boy’s Dad, he’s afraid of being a pedophile — but we don’t know what his hesitation is. It would be fine to infer all these things and not have the movie hit you over the head with it, but he goes on to taunt the kid with foot rubs and other attentions, until they do go to higher levels. Why was he suddenly okay to go to these higher levels? Again, we have no idea, really.
I don’t need to be hit over the head with all this, but the characters often come off as blank. Action can speak louder than words, but their actions are confusing (and yes, I know love is confusing, but that’s not what I mean). Other than some of the little games they play with each other, there’s very little in the way of conflict or drama. In a lot of ways, handling a love story with such restraint and subtlety is refreshing. In other ways it’s a total drag. The movie gets a lot of the emotion and hesitation of first love right — but I didn’t connect with it on a lot of other levels.
I also had to ask myself, did the movie not speak to me simply because I’m not gay? While I can’t totally discount that falling in love with another man is not an experience I’ve lived, I think the movie is less about being gay and more about first love, and unrequited love, in general. And, as Robinson also pointed out, there are plenty of better movies about being gay that I think are brilliant and affecting, even in the last year, like Moonlight.
I’m happy to let everyone that loves it, love it — big of me, I know. But seriously, these things can be subjective. Perhaps the movie was trying to get through to a part of me that’s dead inside (the part that doesn’t stand for over two hours of rambling, apparently). While there have been better movies doing all the things this film was doing, it’s still better than 90% of the movies out there. And there’s plenty of room for representation of gay characters, to be sure. Call Me by Your Name tells a story worth telling. It just didn’t do it in a way that felt particularly effective to me.