MiniReview: "The Normal Heart" (film)

NYC, 1985: Even as they're dealing with illness and death, the gay community has to organize to get the word out about the mysterious virus that's killing them.

Haven’t you already reviewed this?

No, that was the script of the play. This is the television film adaptation, directed by Ryan Murphy and adapted by Larry Kramer from his play, and first shown on HBO in 2014.


So it’s the same story as the play?

It is, but there’s been some fleshing out with scenes that are more visual than word-based. For instance, there are some scenes of gay life on Fire Island, some quite graphic depictions of the horrors of AIDS, a very sexy love scene. The role of the doctor, sensitively played by Julia Roberts, has also been expanded, which opens up the opportunity to talk more about the medical research of the time.


You had some reservations about the play. What did you think of the film?

Just wonderful. It’s beautifully done. Unlike the play, which was written in the very midst of the AIDS crisis, the film is a period piece, going back 30 years, and there is great care taken to re-create the feel of the 1980s, and to document the history of the epidemic. At times, the film reminded me of And the Band Played On, but it’s immensely richer than that film. While And the Band Played On focused on the scientific community's efforts to discover the nature of AIDS, The Normal Heart primarily deals with the formation of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the subsequent infighting. Mark Ruffalo is brilliant in portraying Ned Weeks, the Larry Kramer alter ego, the consummate fighter, by turns inspiring, lovable, pathetic and infuriating. On one level, the film is a fascinating study of group dynamics, and different approaches to activism.


Is it the best AIDS film you’ve seen?

Definitely the best non-documentary I've seen. (The 2011 documentary We Were Here, which deals with the gay community in San Francisco, is unforgettable.) This film is incredibly moving. What the film is able to do that the play isn’t is to show in graphic detail the human cost of the crisis. The illness of Felix (Matt Bomer), Ned’s lover, is heartbreaking to witness. The entire cast is wonderful. One of the things I loved was the way the film depicts different “types” of gay men and some of the issues they deal with (apart from AIDS), which are timeless. Jim Parsons plays a lovely, compassionate, sweet guy who doesn’t appear to have much of a love life in the context of the highly sexualized gay community. The Mark Ruffalo character, after he meets Felix, is haunted by a sense that he should have had this kind of love earlier in his life, but that it was discouraged by the context of the times, his family and his own issues. A lot of this stuff never changes.


I think you’ll be awarding stars (using the Michelin-guide 3-star system)?

2 stars. This is a must-see for anyone interested in gay lives and history.


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