Call Me By Your Name
FilmScene — opened Jan. 19
The coming-of-age film has long been an awards-show darling, particularly in the last decade, from Juno to Boyhood to Moonlight to some of 2017’s buzziest movies. Call Me By Your Name, currently running at FilmScene (tickets $6.50-9), is a gorgeous and gorgeously-acted addition to the genre.
It’s not hard to compare Call Me By Your Name, a romantic drama about a teenage boy who falls for his father’s academic protégé during a leisurely 1980s summer in Italy, to fellow coming-of-ager Lady Bird, the Golden Globe-winning dramedy that has enjoyed more than eight weeks of screenings at FilmScene.
Both are excellent films following 17-year-olds through new relationships, budding sexuality and a changing parent-child dynamic. Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, 23 and 22, respectively, hold center as believable identity-testing youngsters. (Ronan nabbed a well-deserved Globe on Jan. 7, while Gary Oldman’s allegedly revelatory turn as Winston Churchill is still lucky to have beaten out Chalamet for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama).
Still, Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name are very different cinematic experiences. If Lady Bird is ’00s pop music, Call Me is, well, the folky Sufjan Steven ballad “Mystery of Love,” written for the film.
Call Me By Your Name is a film of few words but arresting visuals of “somewhere in Northern Italy,” as a title card reads — Lombardy, Italy, to be more exact. Exuberant graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) and bookish, brooding, musical Elio (Chalamet) spend much of the film’s 132-minute run time riding bikes through the countryside, taking dips in ponds and pools and sharing cigarettes while admiring World War I memorials and discussing their shared Jewish faith.
It should be noted that the film lacks any acknowledgment of how much privilege it would take for Americans to spend a summer this way. For nuanced examinations of the effects of class and socioeconomic status on growing up, turn to Lady Bird, The Florida Project or Moonlight.
Within their small town utopia, and with way too much time on their hands, Oliver and Elio begin a complex dance of attraction, resistance, resentment and eventually love. Let’s get real for a second: this film is hot. In every sense of the word. Even when hormone-dizzy Elio is burying his face in Oliver’s dirty laundry, or getting way too friendly with a peach, Chalamet’s plucky performance — and tossed curls, and Ray Ban sunglasses, and eyes that turn down on the sides like a young Paul McCartney — will make you fall in love with this film.
While it takes a while for the romance to truly blossom, you will be rewarded for your patience. Hammer brings the Ken-doll handsomeness and Chalamet the puppy-dog enthusiasm. The result is bubbling chemistry, sometimes awkward, but sexier for its awkwardness. And if you’re wondering whether the characters’ seven-year age gap gets creepy — it doesn’t. No one is pushed or pressured, and Elio is just as, if not more, complicit in the courtship than older Oliver. Although any situation where you’re left pondering the age of consent is worthy of skepticism (it’s 14 in Italy, by the way). Sidenote: There’s very little nudity or onscreen sexual acts. Cheer or jeer as you will.
In the wake of Moonlight’s 2017 Best Picture win, it’s not so revolutionary to see a same-sex romance play out in a critically-acclaimed motion picture. That said, Call Me depicts bisexuality (both Elio and Oliver are shown in apparently gratifying relationships with women as well) free of stereotypes and excessive angst. Director Luca Guadagnino said he doesn’t see the film as a “gay” movie, but simply a story about the “beauty of the newborn idea of desire, unbiased and uncynical.”
Call Me By Your Name may not have the quick pace and witty one-liners of Lady Bird, but their lead characters each display an authenticity and magnetism that make them worthy of Best Actor wins — and the price of a FilmScene ticket.
Oh, and did I mention Chalamet appears in Lady Bird too? It’s truly been a great year for cinema.