The Normal Heart (2014 TV Movie)
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This is a story that people definitely need to see, to understand how this disease spread unchecked for so long. If not for the efforts of men like Ned Weeks and the Gay Activist Alliance's efforts get funding for research when no public official would even acknowledge there was a problem, who know how many more people have died and would be dying today. This is an angry gritty movie, that doesn't hold back from telling it how it was. It's also a heartbreaking story of how people treat others who are outwardly different yet inwardly the same as themselves. Which is why, whether you're gay or straight, you can relate to the sad love story told here, and the heroism of those who fought the battle to find a way to stop the deaths devastating their community. It's shockingly true that our government let this epidemic get out of control and until deaths started affecting the heterosexual community, and famous people (like Rock Hudson) did nothing to stop its rampage.
The film focuses on the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984, as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), the gay Jewish- American founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group. Ned prefers loud public confrontations to the calmer, more private strategies favored by his associates, friends, and closeted lover Felix Turner (Matt Bomer), none of whom are prepared to throw themselves into the media spotlight. Their differences of opinion lead to frequent arguments that threaten to undermine their mutual goal. But that is only part of the territory this film covers – from the newly post- Stonewall sexual freedom as highlighted on Fire Island, to the gradual finding of Kaposi's sarcoma as badges on dying men, to the nation's sexual politics as gay activists and their allies in the medical community fight to expose the truth about the burgeoning epidemic to a city and nation in denial. The film is more like and opera than a play, with extended monologues by the polio stricken Dr Emma Brookner (a magnificent Julia Roberts), the agonizing anger of Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello in an unforgettable performance), the active but cautious Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch proving he can handle major roles in drama), the cautious reporter Felix Turner (Matt Bomer in a career making role) as he gradually succumbs to Aids in the arms of his lover Ned Weeks, the standard bearer Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons), and smaller but equally impressive roles played by Alfred Molina, Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, Danielle Ferland and on and on.
But it is the towering performance by Mark Ruffalo who manages to bring the audience into the heart of the film. It is an Emmy worthy performance and certainly one for the finest roles Ruffalo has ever mastered. Cliff Martinez manages the musical score with aplomb. The film contains some nudity and some suggestive innuendos, but they all seem important to the story and are not just placed in the film for effect. This is a film that will stun, cause tears, and make a lot of older people weep at the trials of the period reflected and the losses of loved ones during that medical travesty.
For me, if the film was more directed on Ned's strong arm advocacy, I might've scored it higher because that was the important point I took away from the film. Mark Ruffalo did fine, but I think he would have been better if he had more of the 'advocacy' to work with. It upset me to see Ned Weeks battle against those he was trying to help. I didn't see him as an egotistical, self-centered, know it all as they claimed, but as someone who was pushy, loud and told the truth to gay men when the truth was hard to take; and he had no problem getting into the face of those who cold spread that message as he felt, it would save lives. Even the one that eventually hit home.
I appreciate Director Murphy's unflinching realness associated with behaviors at that time, from the clandescent gay sexual encounters to the monogamous ones, all under the beginnings of a real impending health crisis. There are a few stories of men who were treated like dirt as the disease consumed them in life and death, and it is heart wrenching to watch that's to Murphy's direction. And by the way, this is not fiction, and you re-live what many did back then. Julia Roberts as Emma was to show the very, very few people in the medical profession who 'tried' at that time only to get ignored (shunned, treated ignorantly, etc.) as well, and she was quite New York 80s in her portrayal which made her performance quite believable.
It's hard not to compare this to the other films about the early days of AIDS, but this is a different tale, and should be seen as such. Some may not because the advocacy focus get's played down at points when it should have been the hard focus. It's an advocacy and bureaucracy tale, and there is where the film falters as it does skew a bit away from that at times. To focus on Ned Weeks struggle really comes when he goes head to head with what he thought was his compatriots, comes in the latter part of the film. New York bureaucracy and politics was hell, even moreso than Washington at that time, but even worse than that, is the in-fighting. Joe Mantello as Micky really sums this up very, very well and is one of the best performances here. Dennis O'Hare brought a chill to my spine as an "Ed Kotch" representative, a small but pivotal part for this story -- and I bring this up because I wanted more seen of this too to drive this story home.
Matt Bonner takes on the part of Ned's lover Felix who becomes infected with AIDS, and goes through one of the most heartbreaking metamorphoses seen in film as the disease progresses. The thing is, after all the other films one may expect this type of part, but it is Director Murphy along with Bonner that makes this one go the distance as it doesn't flinch from every gory detail. There is nothing romantic about this, it is a disease shown that just doesn't affect his life, but the life of those around him -- like any other terminal illness. Again where the film breakdown is in this ending, which I think was more "contemporary" (2014) than taking the hard line of Ned and his 'beating himself up' for not being more of an advocate to 'save' his lover.
Let me also add that Jim Parson's role as Tommy is another great performance as someone caught in the middle. There is a line Tommy says at a funeral that just brings me to tears, and if it doesn't touch anyone out there, then maybe...they don't have a normal heart. I hope everyone gives this a look because it's not over, and we have much to learn from the past.
I came out in 1981 and this movie captures EXACTLY what it was like. The anger, fear, hysteria and homophobia surrounding AIDS made life a living hell for gay men. This movie made me cry more than once because it bought back all the memories of friends dying...and no one seemed to care. Ruffalo is GREAT in the lead role. More than once he explodes and perfectly captures the anger and frustration gay men were feeling back then. Basically mostly the entire cast was great. Bomer was good as Felix, Julia Roberts was GREAT as a doctor who is handicapped and very frank and Taylor Kitsch was good as Bruce Niles. The only bad performance was by Jim Parsons. He tries a dramatic role and was terrible. Very wooden. Also the movie is a too long and the ending overly dramatic. Still this is essential viewing....especially for gay teens who have no idea what we went through. VERY depressing but it must be seen.
Beautifully acted and moving. Not a false note in the entire film. But aside from that it is important in content.
Although a fictionalized character based on Larry Kramer, Mark made this part his own, while still keeping the aspects of Kramer's real persona. You could feel his performance, every mood of it (and believe me it runs through all of them). Mark's ability to transform into a gay man (at a time in gay history that was so scary and unimaginable) with such believability was amazing. I forgot I was watching Mark Ruffalo, his performance completely erased his own being.
There are many aspects of the film that critics are tearing into. Critics who were not even alive at the time opinion's on the subject are worthless in my view, but for those critics who have long ago left their pacifiers at home I can agree with some of the negatives.
The film showed only a segment of the gay population living in NYC at that time, primarily the rich A listers who were never political before AIDS and only became so when their own lives were in danger. The majority of gay men did not spend sex filled weekends on Fire island in expensive beach houses. They were working men of all races and incomes who because of their financial circumstances, lack of insurance etc died quickly and with little notice outside their friends and family, if they were lucky enough to have a family that accepted them (remember this was 1981 not 2014).
This film brought back a lot of sadness and regrets for me, I wanted to hug Ned Weeks and tell him that things do get better in the future. It's not often that a performance affects me, but Ruffalo's did, not because he was playing a fictionalized version of a real person, but because he was playing a little bit of a lot of different men, who at the time thought the promised land had finally arrived for gay men and only to see it turn into a Holocast right before their eyes.
I hope that Mark is nominated and wins an Emmy for his performance, because he deserves it.
It was a film that has never been made before, and had me rolling on the floor laughing by the wit of the characters, as well as bawling my eyes out. I didn't know who was GOOD and who was BAD and what was going to happen and I loved how it ended at the same time I resented that it ended. It has to win something.
The film certainly doesn't put the late Mayor Koch of NYC or President Reagan in good order. Ruffalo is in a never-ending battle joined with the Roberts character in their pursuit of funding for AIDS victims. Roberts literally pleads with gay men to stop having sex with each other.
How the others eventually turn against Ruffalo for his extreme measures is mesmerizing. The prejudices and attitudes towards AIDS victims is keenly depicted in this excellent, memorable film.
Although the movie is not a cinematographic masterpiece, it can be considered a television one. The approach of the subject is truthful and honest and so is the approach of the characters which complexity builds up all along the movie. I watched the movie as a sort of documentary, a proof of what happened meant to inform a generation that often ignores the early devastating effects of the virus. I was hit by the two well written and well acted monologues of the movie : one is performed by Mark Ruffalo, a gay activist in the movie and the other one by Joe Mantello, an associate of his. Both monologues illustrate the tensions existing in the gay community that was fighting with two enemies at the time : the virus and the social rejection it carried with. A viewing of these two monologues can give evidence of the quality of the original play. The photography is the only disappointing aspect of the movie. Ryan Murphy remained too close to a traditional television style for a subject that deserved a more artistic approach.
For me, I thought Mark Ruffalo was awesome. Seeing that he is not a gay man, his scenes with Matt Bomer must have been difficult. But he is an Academy Award nominated actor so he pulled it off with incredible ease. He was a bit louder than I am used to hearing him and way more confrontational but it was required for this emotional role.
Others that were outstanding were: Julia Roberts (her husband is the cinematographer for this movie), Alfred Molina, the awesome Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer. The last scene in the movie had me crying and thinking.
Thanks HBO for showing this awesome movie. I guess Brad Pitt should be thanked as well :-)
The cast of The Normal Heart are extremely capable and fill out their roles perfectly; the characters come alive on screen and portray their 3-dimensional, flawed nature as well as the challenges of "gay politics". Development of these elements keeps the story progressing at a heart-wrenching pace as illness spreads through an entire generation of gay men in New York.
Summer of 1981, Ned Weeks is a loud opinionated outspoken New York writer who arrives at Fire Island to celebrate the birthday of his long-time friend Mike's partner Craig. Ned is an openly gay guy which is almost unheard of amongst his social groups, most of his friends are closeted for family or work reason, the party is filled with guys he has known throughout the years. Ned's friend Micky who is dating Craig decide to go for a walk along the beach suddenly Craig feels dizzy and collapses. Later in the afternoon Craig is ready to blow out his birthday candles and suddenly begins to cough uncontrollably. Back in New York City Ned after reading an article about the new disease that seems to be killing off gay men meets up with Dr Emma Brookner who is doing her best to raise awareness about this new disease that only appears to be affecting the gay men of New York. Ned organises a gathering at his home and invites every gay man he can to help educate them and spread the word. From the meeting, Ned and a few friends form a Community Group calling themselves Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) where they help other men who are suffering or know of others suffering with a call centre and general advice
The performances from this TV movie are outstanding, Ned Weeks is a man you loathe due to his arrogance and loud mouth but he is played brilliantly by Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind) Matt Bomer's (White Collar, In Time) transformation has to be seen to be believed as his body slowly deteriorates within the three years the film takes place over. With one of her finest performances to date in my opinion Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman, Eat Pray Love) excels as Dr Emma Brookner. Also starring Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Taylor Kitsch and a whole heap of others. I felt the performances by everyone were amazing, a rare opportunity to say the cast was chosen perfectly. Ryan Murphy has done a great job with the film, nothing too fancy more letting the actors star and deliver their lines the way it should be.
It's a very heavy film; some scenes are very distressing and no doubt most will need the tissues handy. A great film that tells how things were in the beginning of the AIDS crisis that struck the world without ever apologising for its brutality and heavy delivery. I feel like there is a lot more more I should say about the film but in doing so will give away too much. Well worth watching even though it is a little longer than I feel it needs to be.