Movie Review : Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Thirteen years ago, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain inexplicably lost the Oscar for Best Picture to Paul Haggis' Crash and it was more or less the end of LGBTQ representation in mainstream cinema. That is until last year, when Barry Jenkins' Moonlight came out of the left field to win in confusing circumstances. This year, we get another LGBTQ movie among the nominees: Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, an adaptation of André Aciman's seminal novel. Is this another winner? Is the Academy clumsily embracing diversity like a suburban father of two is embracing his mid-life crisis?
Call Me By Your Name is a good film with a simple and quiet beauty to it, but it left me with more questions than answers.
So, Call Me By Your Name is the story of Oliver (Armie Hammer), a young, closeted PhD candidate spending six weeks at a professor's Italian villa to work on an Academic paper. The professor's closeted seventeen year old Elio (Timothé Chalamet) falls in love with him and, after initially fighting his attraction, ends up in bed with him. That's about it, really. The two young men are discovering themselves through this mutual attraction, while hiding two they truly are two everyone around them. I'm not shitting you when I say it's a simple movie.
There are no strong overarching themes and symbols to Call Me By Your Name unlike for certain co-nominees like Dunkirk or Phantom Thread. It's a journey of sexual self-discovery, mostly. I mean, Elio doesn't jizz into a peach and breathe in Oliver's swimsuit only to shock you, he's confused and mildly angry at himself for having this irrepressible secret hanging over his head like a sword of damocles. I believe the most important moment in his character development comes when Oliver lovingly tells him after sex: "Call me by your name and I'll call you by mine." Only then Elio gains a gay reflection of himself and starts feeling less alone and alienated. This is ultimately Oliver's gift to him. He ushered Elio into accepting his true self.
I have a conspiracy theory about Call Me By Your Name and it might've been born from my desire to find something to think about while watching it. It's a pretty contemplative movie, so I'll throw it out there and you'll be the judge. I believe the entire movie is filtered through Elio's perception, like he was narrating it in the first person. See, Armie Hammer's character looks like this weird macho American stereotype at the beginning, with his shades and the rippling muscles. He looks like a movie character in the 60s. He's a sexual fantasy. His physical appearance changes after he has sex with Elio. He looks... well... a lot gayer. He's becoming that reflection I was talking about. Maybe I'm seeing nuances where there aren't, but it kept me interested in this otherwise slooowwww moving film.
Giving a fair shake to Call Me By Your Name was difficult, because it's nowhere near as ambitious as its co-nominees for the Oscar for Best Picture. And yet, I can't judge it any other way, because I wouldn't have watched it otherwise. It's an aesthetically pleasing LGBTQ coming of age story that doesn't try to be any more than that. In that respect, it's not that different from what Brokeback Mountain offered back then and it sure isn't as visually or thematically more ambitious than last year's winner Moonlight. I think Call Me By Your Name will have a difficult time living its legacy outside of the LGBTQ community if it doesn't win the Oscar and, while it's not a bad movie by any means, there are flat out better nominees, this year.