‘Dallas Buyers Club’: Juicy for McConaughey, thin for LGBT
Published: November 13, 2013
Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if all it took for assholes to become angels was a little adversity? Hollywood has a long tradition of advancing the notion that even the most flawed man can be transformed into a selfless crusader if exposed to just the right mix of personal tragedy and social injustice.
Throw in a “based on a true story” slugline and that's all you need to prove the myth of the exceptional man.
This is why Schindler’s List chronicled the horrors of the Holocaust through the eyes of an enlightened German and American History X confronted American racial violence through Edward Norton's reformed white supremacist. Movies like these tend to deify their protagonists, never investigating the complicated and often self-serving reasons for their change of heart. Instead, they convince audiences that inside of every callous, self-centered prick is a noble altruist waiting for an opportunity to emerge. All it takes is a little girl in a red coat or an Aryan rapist in the prison shower. Worse, they suggest that these tainted moral warriors possess a unique ability to right the wrongs of society. This explains why Clint Eastwood's righteous white male was the only person in Gran Torino who could effectively counter the gang violence that tormented his Hmong neighbors.
For the first two thirds of Dallas Buyers Club, director Jean-Marc Vallée (Young Victoria) mostly sidesteps this kind of dramatic reductionism. When we first meet Ron Woodroof (a frighteningly gaunt Matthew McConaughey) he's backstage at a rodeo, snorting cocaine and screwing a pair of prostitutes.
It's the 1980s, and though he's bone-thin and wracked with a horrible cough, it's inconceivable to this manliest of cowboys that he's contracted HIV. When a doctor informs him that he's got full-blown AIDS, with a T-cell count in the single digits and a life expectancy of 30 days, his response is exactly what you'd expect.
“I ain’t no faggot, motherfucker,” Woodroof hisses at Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner). “I don’t even know no faggots.”
A hard-partying racist and homophobe, one thing Ron is not is stupid. With the handwriting on the wall he gets educated about the disease and discovers that his prescribed treatment, AZT, offers little hope for survival. This leads Woodroof to Mexico, where he finds success with experimental treatments.