Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: The Normal Heart (2014)

                   A Brilliant Yet Emotional Telling of HIV/AIDS That Feels Like A Stab In The 'Heart'

           Last year saw the release of the film Dallas Buyers Club, which dealt with the issue of HIV/AIDS. Now, we have a film that just premiered on HBO that dealt with the same issue and is based on a Tony-winning play: The Normal Heart. But while Dallas Buyers Club only succeeds in the acting department, The Normal Heart succeeds on every level in my opinion as it really packs an emotional and gut-wrenching punch.

          The Normal Heart is set in the early 80's when HIV/AIDS was being discovered and follows an openly gay writer named Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) who looks to create awareness for HIV/AIDS, along with the help of his friends in the gay community, including his lover Felix Turner (Matt Bomer), and help from friends in the medical field, including a polio-stricken doctor named Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts). As Ned and his pack try to fight the AIDS epidemic, they then try to fight the social ignorance of AIDS and the gay community along the way.

         What I Liked About It:
        First off, I loved the acting in this film. Mark Ruffalo plays a character that is a bit of a stretch from the everyman he usually plays as he is more flustered yet fiercely loyal to his cause. Matt Bomer is also fantastic as Ned's lover Felix and while Ruffalo projects his emotions externally, Bomer projects his more internally. But when his character (*spoiler alert*) gets AIDS, Bomer becomes a bit more external as if he is peeling off a layer of skin and he becomes more physically and emotionally frail. Julia Roberts surprised me here like she did in August: Osage County as she plays a woman who is rather uncharismatic yet you still want her on your side. Another actor who surprised me was Jim Parsons, who plays Ned's fellow comrade Tommy, as he goes more serious unlike in his famous comedic role of Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. Even though Parsons provides mild comedic relief, he still gives a very heartfelt performance. All the other actors are brilliant, which include Taylor Kitsch, Alfred Molina, and Joe Mantello, who starred in the Broadway play version of this film.

        Another thing I liked was how the film was brave enough to show us the physical horrors of AIDS patients. We see plenty of scenes that show different AIDS patients with lesions and frail figures, which at times, makes the film difficult to watch but still gives us a visual demonstration of the issue at hand so it doesn't become sugarcoated. There is even a scene that has an underlying tragedy, in my opinion, where most of the main characters are slow dancing at a gay club and people with AIDS are just watching in the background because they can't come in physical contact with non-infected people. I liked how even though the film shows us why AIDS was so horrible and does it from the point of view of mostly homosexuals, which is pretty rare, it does it in a way that doesn't seem too "on the nose", in my opinion. There were even points in the film where I almost started bawling because it is so sad. Even though the characters are fictional, I was just still hoping for them to find happiness and live to fight this dreadful illness and that is what the experience of watching a film is supposed to be. You want to be taken along the journey that the characters go through, even if it is a painful and rough journey and feel something.

         What I Didn't Like About It:

        Overall, The Normal Heart is an emotional and heartfelt drama that may leave you feeling defeated at the very end. As I said, it is definitely not an easy watch and might make some viewers uncomfortable in terms of its graphic and sexual content, but it really makes you open your eyes about the sheer horror of HIV/AIDS. It is On Demand now and is airing on HBO, so if you get the chance to watch it, you should. You might open your eyes as wide as I have.

Grade: A