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Call Me By Your Name

I, Tonya

January 18, 2018

Call Me By Your Name (**) R

The final twenty minutes of director Luca Guadagnino’s film Call Me by Your Name contains a scene that’s so moving it can equally rival even the most emotionally wrenching moments of any film from the release year of 2017. In the scene to which I’m referring, the father of one of the film’s lead characters, capably portrayed by the great Michael Stuhlbarg, helps his son to sort out his feelings in regard to a heart wrenching event that occurs in the film’s last act. It’s a tender and powerful moment that lingers long after the experience of the film has come and gone. Unfortunately, it takes an agonizing and painfully slow moving 105 minutes to arrive at this moment. If you ask me, that’s a bit of a commitment in order to get to that payoff.

Call Me by Your Name is the kind of film that has met all sorts of acclaim in critic’s circles, routinely arriving at the top of most critic’s  top year end lists. I’m a bit baffled at this fact. The only justifiable conclusion that I can arrive at is that the aforementioned final twenty minutes offer such a payoff that many are willing to forgive the film for its languid and oftentimes frustratingly snail-like pacing. Characters spend what seems like an eternity frolicking and basking in the beauties of the Italian countryside. As a travelogue it works but as an emotionally enveloping experience, well that’s another story.

Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

The plot concerns the seventeen year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and his sexual awakening in the year 1983. Elio flirts with one of the local girls in his general age range but never really feels the pangs of love and passion until the twentysomething college student Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives on the scene. Oliver is staying with the family while officially serving in the capacity as an assistant to Elio’s archaeologist father (Stuhlbarg). When not doing his archaeology thing, Oliver finds plenty of time to swim and bike and generally flit around the Italian countryside. Elio finds himself growing more attracted to Oliver shirtless shenanigans as the days of summer move on and Oliver eventually finds himself giving into the boy’s emotions even as his Oliver’s own sexuality seems to be constantly in flux.

The family seems to have no problem with what is going on and they are far from clueless, as it’s clearly articulated in the final moments of the film. In Europe the stances on this sort of thing are a bit more relaxed. Getting on board with Oliver’s seduction of the boy is going to be a bit hard to take for some and this leads to problems with Oliver’s character as written. Oliver seems to be more into fulfilling his own whims, which seem to change as randomly as the direction of the winds. He doesn’t necessarily come off as a good person serving Elio’s best interests. That’s yet another problem in a film that has more than its fair share.

I, Tonya (***) R

I’ll have to give it to the filmmaking team behind the biopic I, Tonya. They managed to drum up a high level of sympathy for disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding the likes of which I could not have anticipated. Harding’s struggles with a domineering monster of a mother, an absentee father and an abusive husband, not to mention her attempts to escape the rural background where she was born and raised, are very well depicted in director Craig Gillespie’s film. All of the aforementioned obstacles would have been enough to keep many in similar situations from achieving half of what Harding achieved. And reach the heights she did, only to fall just as quickly from her perch due to the infamous incident involving the incapacitation of her chief competitor, Nancy Kerrigan.

The film is structured in a mockumentary sort of fashion where those who were largely involved—Harding, her husband and her mother—are interrogated onscreen in between dramatizations of the major events leading up to and preceding the attack on Kerrigan. In the film’s trajectory, Harding is forced into skating as child by her mother, abandoned by her father as a child, quits school to perfect the sport and, along the way, falls in love with the physically abusive Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who acts as a surrogate father figure to her in some strange way. Gillooly’s man-child pal, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) is tasked with serving as Harding’s bodyguard and eventually sows the seeds that would lead to Harding’s undoing.

Margot Robbie in I, Tonya

Australian actress Margot Robbie is nothing less than sensational in her performance as Harding. On the surface, it appears that Robbie would have been a perfect actress to cast as Kerrigan instead of Harding. It doesn’t take long to see that Gillespie’s choice to cast the actress as Harding was a brilliant one and she really inhabits the role in a way that totally surprises.

If Robbie is an asset to the film then it must be said that Allison Janney’s performance as Harding’s monstrous mother manages to, almost but not quite, one-up Robbie’s work in the film. She’s the domineering stage mother personified with more than a dash of white trash thrown in for good measure. Janney rants and raves and snorts and gives it her all. Admittedly, it’s a one-note performance that has obviously been written as one, but Janney plays that one note for all of its worth.

Both of these movies are playing in Charlotte this week.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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