Sun-Soakin’ Bulges In The Shade: ‘Call Me By Your Name’

I’m sorry, but I cannot review this movie.

I could provide background information on the film, such as the fact that it is based on a popular gay novel of the same name. I could praise the performances of five cast members, not just the touted central lovers played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, or Michael Stuhlbarg’s touching monologue near the end of the film, but also Amira Casar as Elio’s mother and Esther Garrel as his girlfriend. I could easily rave about Luca Guadagnino’s gripping, gorgeous direction, elevated even beyond one of my favorite movies of last year, A Bigger Splash. I could go on and on and on about the music, the production design, and just about every other aspect of Call Me By Your Name.

But wait! I can’t, because I’ve decided not to review it. Not because the raves are coming so fast and furiously from other critics, and my own thoughts on the film are so generically positive that they’d only add to the cacophony. Not because I have nothing to praise, or nothing worth nothing.

It’s actually because I literally can’t review this movie — that’s how much it affected me.

At certain moments, I flat-out hated Call Me By Your Name with a fiery fury, watching itl ike it was my worst enemy. My stomach was in knots. My fists were clenched. I was in deep distress. At other moments, I was profoundly moved. Too profoundly moved for this to be a proper response to cinema. In both cases, my own experience heaped extra context onto this emotionally fraught film. It was too much to take.I wasn’t a huge fan of André Aciman’s novel, though I can see what others appreciated about it. The film replaces flowery prose with action — and even more often, inaction — that numbed my usual gag reflex to poetic love stories. The novel’s bittersweet aftertaste wasn’t enough to wash all that out of my mouth. (Yes, that’s a reference to the peach.) If someone asked me to call them by my name, I’d say “No” and break up with them. That’s just how I’m wired, and why a novel like that has an uphill battle to fight to win me over. My trusty cynicism was gone seconds into this movie, however, and I was fine with that.

I expected to like the film version more than the source material, particularly given the director and his cast and the long-gestating buzz that this is one of the year’s best films. What I didn’t expect was to identify so much with it. The story itself has the misfortune to belong to the overexposed “first crush” + “coming out” subgenre of gay films — though this is one of the best, and should transcend any notion that it’s a strictly “queer” movie. (Moonlight did that exceptionally well last year, all the way to a Best Picture Oscar.) My experiences have some aesthetic similarities to Elio and Oliver’s love story, but Call Me By Your Name doesn’t feel like it’s speaking directly about me. My emotional response goes well beyond this story.

To get into why I felt such rage and despair while watching it would be more like therapy than a movie review, and possibly endless. Without knowing it, Guadagnino pushed all the cruelest buttons he possibly could have. Through no fault of the filmmakers, it was excruciating to sit through.

It’s also perfectly pleasurable in other ways — a beautifully made, intelligently written, spectacularly acted film. A rich feast of sight and sound. You should completely disregard my opinion and see it for yourself — I am disqualified from weighing in on it at all. I have no idea if I’ll want to watch this film again, or if I can even seriously consider it for my Top 10, because I’m so mad at this movie. I don’t know if I can ever forgive it, despite its near-perfect craft in every scene. My reaction to Call Me By Your Name is far from objective, and selfishly, I’d rather not review it to avoid having to think about it again.

So I won’t. Enjoy the film. Goodbye.



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