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The love story subgenre isn’t as prolific as you may think. Most are shoehorned into the romantic comedy category or aren’t critically successful enough to be anything more than that thing boyfriends are dragged to every February. Call Me By Your Name dares to tell such a story on the Academy Award scale, earning it a Best Picture nomination and, more importantly, a spot in this completely irrelevant review series.
A Tale of Two Films
My Call Me By Your Name experience was a tale of two films. The first half is clearly intended to accumulate some romantic tension. There’s a lengthy buildup, which is probably necessary to fully appreciate the payoff. But this first hour is a lot slower than it has to be. The plot sort of wanders in circles around the relationship everyone knows is going to happen. We’re all here to watch it happen, and we’ve instead witnessed what must’ve been a thousand breakfasts.
The latter stages would lack a certain impact if these things were rushed. I just feel the road to that destination could’ve been more interesting and less occasionally pretentious. I can imagine the 2007 book handling this stretch in a more engaging way. It’s a small and soon forgotten complaint, because those aren’t the stages of Call Me By Your Name that actually stay with you.
A Tale of Two Performances
The film’s second half is much more endearing, offering a unique vulnerability that somehow evades any cheesier territory with precision. A great deal of that balancing act comes from the best male performance of the year. Timothée Chalamet is incredible, and I enjoyed every second of his odd mannerisms. His physicality had a life of its own, made even better by how he delivered the actual script. I loved the guy, he felt like my best friend, and I found myself rooting for his success at every turn.
Doomed romance is an overplayed thing in the movie world, but a refreshing take on it does make for some great drama. One thing I still struggle with while trying to remember this movie fondly is Armie Hammer’s performance. He has the tougher redemption, as his initially arrogant behavior is more abrasive. And my cold, unforgiving heart never felt as if he fully worked his way back from that. He’s not bad at all, but I did find myself shuffling through potential alternatives for the role. That’s never a good sign.
Whatever Makes You Happy
My experience with this on-screen relationship is one that many friends have in real life. Have you ever found yourself saying something along the lines of, “as long as he/she makes you happy?” Elio was my boy in this scenario and, while I honestly felt he could do better, he was clearly happy in this situation and that’s what mattered. I bought into the relationship because I felt attached to half of it, if that makes any sense.
Honestly, the fact that I’m even this immersed and phrasing everything this way is a very good sign for Call Me By Your Name. I’m speaking as if any of this is real. Look at me; I’ve crafted a fake friendship for myself. I’ve gone back and forth with people over Oliver’s character, but the discussion itself is a cinematic success. This is an impressively magnetic movie, one that captures and fully develops a complicated relationship between two people.
To reiterate, Call Me By Your Name is a bit of a process. It’s a slow start, but an ultimately worthwhile effort. The film showcases an entire spectrum of emotions while so many fail to fully understand a single one. And if nothing else, these two hours of Timothée Chalamet doing his thing is movie enough for anyone. I can see people enjoying Call Me By Your Name to drastically different degrees, but would be very surprised if someone didn’t enjoy it at all. Common reactions must range from, “That was sweet” to “That was brilliant.”
I have Call Me By Your Name as a solid top-four Best Picture nominee, one that probably won’t win anything and that’s just fine. It’s a small story about interesting people, experiencing real issues. God forbid a film does only that.