‘Dallas Buyers Club’: Juicy for McConaughey, thin for LGBT
Published: November 13, 2013
Unfortunately, the drugs aren't approved in the U.S. Smelling both personal salvation and a unique business opportunity, he starts smuggling his unauthorized AIDS drugs into Dallas.
But how does a casual bigot earn the trust of the local gay community? Enter Rayon (Jared Leto), a street-smart HIV-positive transgender junkie. Ron reluctantly takes her on as his business partner, unaware that the virus that threatens his life is also now reshaping his worldview. What begins as a cynical survival and business tactic gradually becomes the kind of personal crusade that attracts Hollywood adaptations. Add to the mix that Ron is forced to perform an end run around hostile FDA agents and their entrenched support of the pharmaceutical industry by creating a members-only subscription service for afflicted clients, and you've got the makings of an Oscar-nominated drama.
At first,Vallée keeps the sentimentalism at bay, opting for a raggedy, matter-of-fact portrait of his highly flawed and accidental crusaders. Neither character is generous by nature, each angling for what serves their interests best. While the film's message of activism and tolerance is inevitable, it rarely compromises Woodroof's shrewd pragmatism for self-important posturing. Instead, it suggests that Ron's acceptance of the LGBT community was born from daily interactions rather than some hackneyed life-changing epiphany. Better still, his unlikely friendship with Leto's self-destructive Rayon is presented as bristly and complicated. Both actors are in especially fine form, bringing their characters' complex relationship with illness to vivid life. (The less said of Garner's unnecessary and ineffectual doctor character, the better).
But as the movie clumsily enters its homestretch, the temptation to turn rebellious Ron into a heartstring-tugging heterosexual hero of AIDS activism becomes too much for screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack to resist. For all the subtlety and substance given to its two leads, Dallas Buyers Club makes the unfortunate mistake of casting the gay community as anonymous extras in their own struggle (much as Spielberg did to the Jews in Schindler's List). Other than Rayon, you'll be hard-pressed to identify another homosexual character. Only Vallée's deft direction and insistent focus on the resolve of its complicated outcasts keeps things grounded, reminding audiences that sometimes it is the desperate and despised who fight hardest to balance the scales of justice.
Dallas Buyers Club
Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée; writ. Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack; feat. Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto (R)
Opens November 14 at Santikos Bijou