MOVIE REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)


Going In

The truth is, I’m just not that interested in seeing Call Me By Your Name. Might as well get that out of the way right up front. But the thing about film criticism is that a responsible critic doesn’t just watch the movies that they might like. Appreciation for cinematic excellence must exist outside of one’s preferences, and so here I sit, about to take in a story about a sensual romance between a 24-year old man and 17-year old boy. The age gap in this story is a big concern, as is Hollywood’s tendency to label sexual lust and desire as “love,” but I refuse to judge this book (adaptation) by its cover. Many critics have raved and gone so far as to label  Luca Guadagnino’s film “a masterpiece,” and that alone makes it essential viewing, regardless of my resulting opinion.

2 Hours and 12 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

In many ways, Call Me By Your Name earns its place among the best films of the year. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography is gorgeous.  Whether it’s the landscapes of the Italian countryside or perfectly angled interiors, every shot captures a feeling of authenticity to the era. Under Guadagnino’s direction, the details are captured everywhere, in a glance here or brush of the hand there, and the beginnings of Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio’s (Timothée Chalamet) romance can be noticed ever so subtly if one just pays enough attention. The acting in the film is also to be commended. Chalamet rightfully deserves all praise and award consideration coming his way after turning in one of the best performances of the year. His boyish charm comes through brightly on the screen, and when he hurts it is impossible not to feel that in your soul. Hammer, who never disappoints, plays the older American visitor pitch perfect. The nuance in his hints of romantic interest are delicately balanced against his boisterous personality until the moment he lets go to release a torrent of built up passion.  The chemistry between the two leads is palpable and the growing desire between them practically drips off of the screen like the beads of sweat on their shirtless chests. And then there’s Michael Stuhlbarg, playing Elio’s father, who is quietly effective for most of the film leading up to one incredibly powerful Oscar-worthy scene in which he must do a thing every parent wishes would never be necessary – comfort a hurting child. 

Call Me By Your Name could have been a moving, romantic coming-of-age tale about first love, if not for its two glaring problems. Why the majority of critics have seemed to overlook these issues is worrisome. Legally, there is nothing wrong with the relationship as it is portrayed. A 17-year old boy in early 1980’s Italy was past the age of consent and could make decisions as an adult. But just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. Hammer is a large man and he physically towers over Chalamet, presenting the appearance of an age gap closer to the actual 10-years between the actors than the 7 between the characters. Elio is shown to be young, still living with his parents, following their rules, and laying his head in their laps for nightly book readings. Oliver, in contrast, is in control of every emotion and hides his carnal urges toward Elio for quite some time before ultimately giving in to the younger boy’s increasing persuasions. The relationship feels much more like a dominating one than one of equally experienced adults giving consent. Oliver is a sexually mature world-traveler. Elio is the opposite, inexperienced and unsure of himself and his sexuality. It increasingly feels like Oliver is controlling the situation and feeding his own passion and desire in the moment without any long-term concern for its effect on Elio. Does he care about Elio? Probably, but that’s another fault of the film. Love is shown in action and sacrifice, not just physical interaction, and we see neither of these in the choices made in Call Me By Your Name.

Also concerning is the way in which both Oliver and Elio treat women. Elio is in a relationship with the sweet, same-aged Marzia (played by the stunning Esther Garrel), but as he struggles with his sexuality the result is that she becomes used for his pleasure and nothing more . While the film focuses extensively on the emotional toll his feelings to toward Oliver have on Elio, it merely skims over how horribly treated Marzia is and what the repercussions could be on her own psyche. Oliver, meanwhile, has his own skeletons in the closet that speak to his in appropriate treatment of women. It’s all washed away, seemingly, because the film promotes the boys’ relationship and sexual exploration as positive. Even Elio’s parents support and encourage the relationship between their visiting research assistant and teenage son. It’s as if Guadagnino believes that the feelings of passion Oliver and Elio shared were worth it no matter who got hurt in the process.

I can’t help but wonder just how this movie might play with a 24-year old man and 17-year old girl, instead of two men. Would as many people be overlooking this troublesome relationship? In contrast to the caring, loving actions shown in the relationship between Kevin and Chiron in Moonlight, Oliver and Elio’s summer romance feels like nothing more than a brief sexual fling, and I’m going to need a lot more depth than that if you want me to care for these characters.

Verdict

Despite being a beautifully made film that features fantastic performances, Call Me By Your Name‘s inappropriate romance and resulting treatment of those affected by it make this film impossible to recommend. Sex and lust are not the same thing as love, and though the film captures the feeling of desire, its all made dirty due to the age difference and unequal stature of the two men at its center. The film’s craftsmanship is simply undeniable, but its offenses are equally unforgivable.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 086: The Edge of Seventeen

Feelin’ Film writer Jeremy Calcara joins us for a discussion about one of our favorite coming-of-age films. The Edge of Seventeen is unique in its rejection of typical genre tropes in order to tell a more realistic and innocent story. With memorable characters and relationships, this is a film we expect to find ourselves revisiting often, and talking about it brings us great joy.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:42

Aaron (Brigsby Bear)
Patrick (Love & Mercy)
Andrew (Brigsby Bear, The Punisher on Netflix)

The Edge of Seventeen Review – 0:17:38

The Connecting Point – 1:19:16

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Coming-of-Age: Our Favorite Films About Growing Up

coming-of-age:  the attainment of prominence, respectability, recognition, or maturity

As we prepared for our recent conversation about Almost Famous, we began to realize how deeply our affection for this genre of storytelling goes. The more we thought about it, many films that deal with the growth of a protagonist from youth to adulthood resonate strongly with us. Perhaps it is because of the focus on dialogue over action, or the fact that many are set in past eras that we either enjoy remembering or like to visit. And perhaps it also has something to do with the positive nature of these tales. They rarely have a “villain” and almost always end in some kind of hope. Here at Feelin’ Film, that’s a recipe for goodness.

So, we decided as a staff to bring you a few words on some of our favorite coming-of-age movies. Please comment in our Facebook group or here on the blog and let us know what your favorites are… and most importantly, why.

Aaron (Reality Bites): I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t heard over heels in love with one of my absolute favorite coming-of-age stories, Reality Bites. This film is not usually mentioned among “the greats,” but upon its release in 1994 (which happened to be my Freshman year of high school) it captured my attention completely. While some may see this as just a tale of slackers and the precursor to what we now call hippies, there was something incredibly relatable about the characters and their struggle to find a place in a post-college world. One of the primary reasons I fell in love with Reality Bites was the dialogue. This introduced me to sharp, witty, and smart writing. It had characters that looked like just lazy bums but that clearly had high intelligence and deep emotions. It also launched a lifelong favoritism of Ethan Hawke as an actor. Throw in one heck of an awesome soundtrack for good measure, too. I’ve probably watched this film more than any other single coming-of-age tale and the character of Troy informed the intelligent sarcasm I sometimes spit today. If you missed this one or skipped over it, check it out. You might just be surprised.

Patrick (The Outsiders): This film was my first exposure into the coming-of-age movie genre, even though I didn’t know what that was at the time. It was a movie introduced via English class seeing as how it originated from a book. What drew me into the story though was this kid named “Ponyboy” Curtis, a guy whose struggle with identity, with wanting to be more than a greaser from the other side of the tracks, is a story that resonates with so many people, me included.  Identity, especially during adolescence is a huge question mark for a person. Ponyboy’s life is no different, but what I think makes him unique is his intentional fight to be defined by more than where he comes from, by more than the label he is attached to. He’s different from his brothers and his greaser friends. He writes, he likes poetry. In some ways, he and his relationship with Cherry Valance serve as the bridge between the Greasers and the Socs. At the same time, he says “I lie to myself all the time, but I never believe me.” He can’t get away from the life he has, but he can’t deny who he really is. It’s this duality that lives in a lot of coming-of-age stories, the struggle that comes from just growing up and losing the innocence of youth, being exposed to a world that is harsh and dishonest. But one of my favorite lines from the book and the movie comes from Ponyboy’s best friend Johnny, who reminds him to “stay gold,” to hold onto that youthful ideology and not let it change who you are. Stay gold Ponyboy. Stay gold!

Don (The Way, Way Back): Every so often, a little movie you didn’t see coming hits you square in the chest, surprises you for its quality, and completely satisfies the emotional investment and trust you put into it.  This effect is especially evident with the memorable coming-of-age films we grow to cherish.  That punch happened to me in 2013 with The Way Way Back.  It harked back to my own teenage shell and the motivators that helped me find the release of youthful exuberance that led to little life milestones.  When we watch a film like The Way Way Back, there’s a good chance we can all pinpoint one great summer, one great trip, or even one great week, where we broke through our own personal glass ceilings.  Mine was the summer of 1996 between my junior and senior years of high school where movie-going became my new place of solace to experience two-hour mini-vacations that took me away from real life.  That summer started my journey as a movie lover and I’ve looked back on it fondly since.

Steve (Can’t Buy Me Love): Not all quirky teen comedies from the 80’s are mired in the tradition of using boobs and butts as plot points to ultimately reach, well, nowhere really. Some actually dare to teach us something, as Can’t Buy Me Love (1987) does by stepping outside that formula. The story of Ronald Miller’s (Patrick Dempsey) rise from geekdom to chicdom, only to be outcast again when he’s called out as fake news, serves to remind us of the perils in navigating the choppy waters of high school cliques from upon a throne of deceit. So obsessed is Ronald in being able to play in the same sandbox as the cool kids, he’s willing to bankroll a faux friendship with the least attainable girl on campus, Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson); head cheerleader, suburban elitist, and poor negotiator of clothing store return policies. With his real friends barely an afterthought while he revels in his new found social status, Ronald essentially ensures he has nowhere to fall back upon as things begin to unravel. It takes a second stint as a social pariah to make Ronald understand that the line in the sand between “our side” and “their side” is a societal construct of immaturity and insecurity. That the kids we played in our treehouse with in elementary school would turn against us a few years later, using metrics such as the ‘ability to throw a football’ or ‘be seen in the trendiest fashions’ as measurements for assigning roles in the teenage caste system, speaks loudly even today in a society self absorbed in keeping up with the Jones’. The fact Can’t Buy Me Love understood this and tackled it thirty years ago, not as a cliche but as a cautionary tale, is significant. Ronald Miller’s journey to self awareness is not easy for him or those around him, but the lessons he gleans resonate, and the themes of the film remain culturally relevant to this day.

Jeremy (The Sandlot): Much of my childhood was defined by baseball. I remember the joy I felt watching the 1985 World Series, taking batting practice with my grandpa, being picked up from school early to watch the Kansas City Royals on opening day and my dad bare-handing a line drive foul ball at the College World Series to snag a souvenir. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that my favorite coming of age film is 1993’s The Sandlot. In The Sandlot, writer and director David Evans manages to find the perfect combination of 60’s nostalgia, the angst of being the new kidthe joy of belonging, childhood mythology, James Earl Jones and Wendy Peffercorn. As a shy kid who had found a place to belong on the diamond, The Sandlot spoke to me when I was young and has continued to remind me of simpler times as I’ve grown into an adult. And of course, who can’t remember a time where they got themselves in a pickle and needed a few buddies to help them out. 

Thanks for reading! We’re excited to hear your picks and stories.  – Feelin’ Film