Sunday, November 26, 2017

Call Me by Your Name: Better Than Porn?

Call Me By Your Name, the new cinematic gay love story by director Luca Guadagnino, belongs to a genre that might be called “European vacation porn.” This is a genre where some character is lucky enough to have a summer home or hideaway in some exotic European location (in this case northern Italy) and it includes Guadagnino’s previous film, A Bigger Splash, as well as the underrated Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie travelogue By the Sea (which now reads like a documentary about their divorce), both of which were filmed in locations so exotic, I don’t even know where they are. (See also: Nancy Meyers/real estate porn.)
It may also be the beginning of another genre: a gay love story where neither character is murdered at the end (Brokeback Mountain) or commits suicide (virtually every gay film before Brokeback Mountain). There is a plot twist at the end, which I won’t reveal here, but it’s not fatal.
There was some controversy before this movie came out about the difference in age between the two characters (17 and 24 in the book upon which the movie is based and played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer—who is closer to 30—in the movie), but to me the bigger source of controversy is the idea that a Greek god like Hammer would be attracted to what could most charitably described as the “gay nerd” played by Chalamet. Maybe it’s because, to crib a line from Little Britain, they’re the only gays in the village. (I could write a separate essay on Hammer’s beauty—the square chin, the Robert Redford-thick blond hair, but I digress).
It’s a testament to Chalamet’s and Hammer’s acting ability that they make this work. It also helps that Chalamet’s character is so young and horny, he’s apparently attracted to women, as well (and women are also drawn to both characters—no need to explain in Hammer’s case).
The high point of this movie for me was when Hammer and Chalamet wander into an outdoor party and the DJ plays The Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way.” I’ve always loved this song, far and away the Furs’ best (any one of whose parts—xylophone, keyboard, drums, vocal—are among the best examples of those parts ever recorded), but when this song came over the movie theater’s speakers, my head damn near exploded! When I came home, I not only played this song about a hundred times in a row, it sent me into an ’80s music K-hole!
Guadagnino pulled off a similar feat in Splash, when Ray Fiennes played the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.” It wasn’t just the music, it was the characters’ sheer joy (Fiennes in Splash, Hammer and Chalamet in Name) in dancing to it. Clearly, Guadagnino is a director who understands the power of a song to lift a movie into the stratosphere.
With Name and Splash, Guadagnino catapults into the front ranks of movie directors (and, parenthetically, the Psychedelic Furs leap into the pantheon of great rock bands).
Nevertheless, the movie winds up being somehow less than the sum of its parts. My expectations were impossibly high after Splash and, given the level of talent involved—in addition to Guadagnino, there's screenwriter James Ivory (Maurice)—I don’t know what I was expecting.
But the great thing about this movie—what makes it better than porn—is that by not being graphic, it forces your imagination to do the extra work and, therefore, remains in your mind much longer.
Unfortunately, no matter how many times I played “Love My Way,” I still couldn’t get Armie Hammer to magically appear in my apartment.