What if I told you one scene in a movie was ten times better than the rest of the flick? Would that make sense? First, let me tell you about the movie.
17 year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) seemingly has it all: a leisure-filled lifestyle in the beautiful countryside of Italy; plenty of girls swooning over him, including Marzia (Esther Garrel); a music fueled mind that is quickly turning him into a prodigy. All in all, he is the twinkle in his successful father’s (the always trustworthy Michael Stuhlbarg) eye. But there’s just one thing: Elio has a crush on his father’s doctorate intern, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Their budding relationship is the backbone of Luca Guadagnino’s film, Call Me By Your Name.
Like its protagonist, this movie wants you to love it badly, and constantly vies for your attention, like Elio playing music with Oliver in the room, or chasing him into town for a lustful getaway to the lake. In the end, Call Me By Your Name fails to register because of one simple reason: Hammer is a bad actor and you never see much chemistry build between him and Chalamet, who doesn’t give a great performance either.
Call Me By Your Name won the award for Best Picture at the Gotham Awards in November, and is poised for the awards circuit, but I didn’t see anything to love about this movie, which plays like a needy aunt who wants your affection for two plus hours.
For the entire running time, you watch Elio play cerebral footsy with the 24 year old Oliver, and even when they do finally embrace, it feels artificial, like it was coming the entire time no matter what. James Ivory’s script is based off Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name, and while it includes some tasteful moments, there isn’t much in this movie that didn’t come off better on the page.
The biggest problem is Hammer, who is as dull as a piece of cardboard. He is the chewy steak at a lowly lit diner in the middle of the night that you didn’t need anyway. If looks could kill, Hammer would qualify near the top of Hollywood, but he can’t emote for his life, and his range is as far as a toddler’s arm. He is wooden and unconvincing as a man that an entire town would like a night with. Like fellow heartthrob Liam Hemsworth, the man has zero range.
That inability to act drowns any chance of chemistry with Chalamet, who shows more range of emotion than his counterpart, but not enough to lift the film up to any higher level. Without the required chemistry, the film never truly takes off, its ambitions standing head and toe above its execution.
Take Brokeback Mountain for example. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal had such good chemistry that when the end of the film came and Ledger’s sad cowboy was hugging his ex-lover’s shirt, it was heartbreaking and remarkably played. In Call Me By Your Name, there is no such feeling in the end. When a character spends the majority of the credits crying, that is what my patience was doing.
What about that one great scene? It belongs to the brilliant character actor, Stuhlbarg. When Elio needs a good pep talk near the end of the film, Mr. Perlman gives the most impassioned speech one could hope for from a dad to his son about a homosexual relationship. This was one of the best scenes of the entire year in film, and it was located inside an only “alright” film. I left wanting more time with Stuhlbarg’s Mr. Perlman. I wanted to know about the experiences that led him to telling Elio about how human beings cut off so much of themselves to stay balanced that by the age of 30, there’s nothing left.
That was what the writer, director, and crew were going for the entire film, but it took 110 minutes to get there and wasn’t enough to lift the film.
Call Me By Your Name isn’t a bad film, and there are some intriguing moments and fine performances. It simply didn’t come close to greatness, nor register with me after the credits rolled. Only Stuhlbarg’s scene did. That was it.
When you wonder whether or not Call Me By Your Name could have succeeded, remember that Armie Hammer was the main suspect in how its chances for greatness died. He’s as useful as tofu.