We’ve been waiting for “The Normal Heart” ever since it was announced that HBO was making a film version of the renowned Larry Kramer play and now, a few weeks out from its May 25th airdate, I’ve had an early peek at the film and wanted to offer up what we now know about the film, which stars Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, Joe Mantello, Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, BD Wong, Alfred Molina and many more. The film is directed by Ryan Murphy from a screenplay by Kramer himself.
1. Get the tissues ready. Like Kramer’s 1985 play (which finally made it to Broadway in 2001 with John Benjamin Hickey and Ellen Barkin winning Tony Awards as well as winning for Best Revival of a Play), the story draws you into this world where the gay community had to unite to fight the impact of the disease. And while the deaths are heartbreaking, the stories of the survivors are just as impactful due to their fight that went unheard for so long. And while there’s a strong political message here, the film is grounded in character, which is a very good thing.
2. Emmys for everyone! Strong performances abound with Parsons showing (again) that isn’t a one-trick-pony named Sheldon. Roberts showing an array of emotions from confusion to vulnerability to rage. And while I haven’t been impressed with Kitsch since “Friday Night Lights,” he has some acting chops for sure and goes toe-to-toe with Ruffalo. And Mark Ruffalo is our center as Ned Weeks, the journalist who makes the epidemic his cause. (And he and Bomer are so charming together!) All that said…
3. Bomer for the WIN! …if I were to predict anyone of the cast to get an Emmy later this year it will be Matt Bomer. Having watched his work over the years, this is easily the best work the actor has ever done and this film will change his career and will put to rest any doubt that he’s only a really attractive package. Having already conquered television with his long-running series “White Collar” on the USA Network, expect Bomer to move into the A-list with this role.
4. Director! Director! While Murphy’s directing in the past hasn’t wow’d me, Kramer’s script is so full of facts as well as heart and soul, the out director/producer shows that he can lift up a play and not detract from it. There are great moments here where the camera really makes everything so much more personal without overpowering the message. Bravo!
5. The LGBT movement. I cover LGBT in media for my job so its easy even for me to forget where there was a time we didn’t see out actors, out characters and anything gay-centric was heavily stereotyped and labeled the ‘very special episode.’ Taking us back to 1981 in the film reminded me of the journey we’ve endured…and how the battles are still not over. And as awful as the AIDS epidemic was, the one good thing that came out of it is uniting the LGBT community and the rest of the world.
6. Barbra missed out: Ms. Streisand owned the rights to “The Normal Heart” for a decade but the film is only now getting made. According to the new Entertainment Weekly, Kramer gave the rights to Murphy, who said in the story, “Larry set a very high price.”That said, the writer, who is HIV positive and recovering from “unrelated medical complications” said via email that the film got made “because of Ryan Murphy caring passionately about getting it made…” (Having seen the film, it would probably be a very different film in the hands of Barbra.)
7. Working With Kramer: The playwright, yes, has a reputation for being tough with his material and the EW story quoted Ruffalo’s observation of Kramer working with Murphy, who also has a similar bullish reputation. “Larry pushed Ryan deep into his emotional life and his humanity. And Ryan pushed Larry deeper into the culture, piercing the gay culture and moving into his humanity…the feeling was that it could go bad, it could go off the track.” If it did, it does not show onscreen.
8. Is the film a total downer? Like any good project dealing with heavy subject matter, in many ways we know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for our characters in “The Normal Heart.” The government does finally get more involved in AIDS research (though the biggest moves happened post-Ronald Reagan, who, the film reminds us at the end, finally talked of AIDS but then reduced the budget for research and support shortly thereafter)
9. The Normal Heart: The Sequel?: Did you know Kramer continued the story of Ned Weeks in his 1992 play, “The Destiny Of Me?” In the play, we delve into Weeks’ life as a young man and how he became the man that we met in ‘The Normal Heart.’ While still dealing with AIDS with the adult Weeks participating in an experimental treatment for the virus, the play could be adapted next if audiences want more.
10. History: LGBT films both for the big screen and television has a long line of films related to the HIV/AIDS crisis (I posted a list of 10 of those films recently) and it’s safe to say that “The Normal Heart” will find itself easily in the company of other projects like “Philadelphia,” “Angels In America” and “Longtime Companion.”
“The Normal Heart” airs May 25th at 9pm on HBO.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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