Movie Review: THE NORMAL HEART (2014) – A Bold Film With A Stellar Cast
Every now and then a movie comes along that I can really get behind. A socially responsible story that is so well told that it stays with you even after the viewing. The THE NORMAL HEART, based on the Tony Award winning Broadway play by Larry Kramer, is such a movie.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
The story is a fictional account of the Aids epidemic in New York City in the early 80’s and how it all started, who was affected, and how the world reacted. It’s heartbreaking, enraging and thought provoking as hell. THE NORMAL HEART features some amazing writing, stunning performances and a breathtaking story based on real life events that are unbelievable to experience. The ensemble cast performs beautifully well in a story that can is designed to tug at heartstrings while shedding some light on a time that might not have gone down in the history books.
When a Doctor notices that a new type of Cancer is affecting Gay men all over the world, she reaches out to a Gay writer to spread awareness and information to the Gay community and to do something about it. The writer, Ned Weeks, along with his group of friends, form an organization and starts making the city aware of this outbreak, in order to save lives. What follows is a tale of oppression, ignorance and utter lack of anything resembling sympathy for a group of people that started dropping dead in the 80’s and the world did nothing, simply due to their sexual orientation.
Mark Ruffalo plays Ned Weeks, the main lead of the story in a film with multiple characters portrayed by amazing actors. Being the most outraged of the group, Weeks approach to spreading awareness is loud, obnoxious and rage filled, which naturally rubs most people the wrong way. Even though Weeks message is one of proactive action to save lives, he does is so aggressively that people don’t listen to what he’s saying, but rather how he’s saying it. This creates conflict among his peers, who are largely passive Homosexuals, with dual lives who are understandably hesitant to broadcast their sexual preference to the world. This internal clash between the members of the Gay organization is the main source of the drama in the film, as the world at large, ignore them or deny that there is even a problem. THE NORMAL HEART focuses on the progression of this social attitude towards Gay men at a time when Aids wasn’t even named, but people were dying of it nonetheless.
THE NORMAL HEART is a very graphic film. It very openly shows all sides of Homosexuality, from the lovemaking, social discrimination, as well as the suffering that someone with Aids goes through. It’s grimacing and very difficult to behold, thereby making it that much more effective in its impact. Personally, I initially founds the scenes of Gay sex… rough to watch. However, I realized that if mainstream films can show explicit content of lovemaking between a man and a woman, soft core obviously, nothing pornographic, then it should be just as valid for the same to be true of Homosexual scenes of the same nature. Despite our liberal social attitudes in this day and age, it’s only equality is such content can be freely portrayed in cinema without issues of sexual orientation. The story of THE NORMAL HEART doesn’t show the characters as Gay men, but as people who live, love, desire and die. The actors’ performances of the gay characters, aren’t flamboyant, over the tope or the stereotypical depictions that we’re used to. The film isn’t a preachy message of hope, or a call to action… but rather a snapshot of a group of people at a time when their welfare was under attack, and they were left to fend for themselves.
The story follows these characters, their lives, their loved ones, and the personal impact that Aids & HIV has on them. I’m no expert on what happened, but it was heart wrenching seeing this side of the Gay debate, that I never knew existed. It’s a well told story, no doubt with embellishments of real life incidents to increase dramatic impact, but impactful it is nonetheless. The cast is brilliant in their depictions of various type of people affected by this epidemic. Every actor gives a breakout performance that is awe-inspiring and just amazing to watch. Taylor Kitsch, better known from JOHN CARTER or SAVAGES, puts in a stunning performance of a closeted Gay man, elected to be president of the Gay Men’s organization, and the one who is always at odds with Weeks for his outspoken public speeches against the government for not aiding them. Jim Parsons, better known as Sheldon from THE BIG BANG THEORY, doesn’t have much range, as it just feels like Sheldon in a Gay movie. However, the moments he is on screen, he definitely carves out a spot for himself and delivers a great emotional monologue in the middle that brings tears to one’s eyes. Alfred Molina as an accepting older brother to Ruffalo’s Weeks is amazing as he is told that his love and acceptance isn’t enough… and the struggle that he goes through to understand why his younger Gay brother is frustrated, is heartbreaking. Despite these amazing performances from veterans and new comers, the stand out here must be Matt Bomer, most recognized from his show WHITE COLLAR.
Bomer loses incredible amounts of weight from his otherwise robust physique, to portray the most graphic role of a man suffering from Aids that I’ve personally seen in a film, since maybe Tom Hanks in PHILEDELPHIA. Bomer’s transformation from the flirty fun and gorgeous boyfriend of Weeks, into the sickly, dying and pathetic lover of a man fighting tooth and nail for his survival, is stunning. His scenes with Ruffalo are that much more effective when taking into account the commitment he gave to this role. Julia Roberts, the only ‘star’ among the bunch pulls off a very restraint role as Dr. Emma Brookner, the doctor who discovers the epidemic and fights her heart out to make people aware and find a cure. Mark Ruffalo was always, in my eyes, a talented actor… but after this film, I must say that the man is a genius of talent!
THE NORMAL HEART effectively exploits the inherent human emotion of being able to feel sympathy and empathy for others, and beautifully depicts a story about a crisis in the human race, that was simplified into being a cause for a select few. Not having any experience, I can’t personally say how far the Gay movement has come since the events of this film, or what the social attitudes are today, however, I’d like to think things have gotten better. THE NORMAL HEART is a brilliant work of social cinema that pushes boundaries, both in storytelling and graphic content. It’s not for the faint of heart, but is an emotionally riveting film.