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Friday, May 23, 2014

There will be tears while watching HBO's The Normal Heart

When I saw the 2011 Broadway production of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer's semi-autobiographical play about the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis in NYC, many tears were audibly shed in the audience. And last night at a special Chicago screening of the new HBO film adaptation, once again there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Almost 30 years after its Off-Broadway debut, this drama is now a period piece, but its emotional story of love and friendship and devastating loss and discrimination is timeless. It still packs one hell of a punch that will break your heart.

The entire cast of the HBO film is wonderful, including Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights), Alfred Molina, Jonathan Groff (HBO's Looking) - whose appearance is brief, but it's always nice to see him - and two actors who appeared in the Broadway production - Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Joe Mantello, who received a Tony Award nomination for his performance in the central role of writer/activist Ned Weeks. Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) plays Ned in the movie, and he is equally amazing in an Emmy-worthy turn that perfectly captures the self-deprecating humor, the frustrating anger and the overwhelming sadness of the character. Ruffalo deserves a shiny accolade or two to display on his mantel for such a memorable acting achievement. I would also love to see both Julia Roberts and Matt Bomer be recognized for their outstanding performances as Dr. Emma Brookner, a wheelchair-bound physician who treats many early cases of AIDS, and Ned's lover Felix, who becomes one of her patients. There are many unforgettable scenes in the film, but Roberts and Bomer each shine in two of my favorites. When Ned persuades Emma to dance with him to Johnny Mathis' "Chances Are", the expression on her face as she tightly embraces him makes you realize how lonely she must be. And after Ned and Felix make love for the first time, the camera lingers upon the latter's naked backside - which is quite pleasing I will admit - but later on when director Ryan Murphy shows us Felix when he is no longer healthy, it's a startling and tragic contrast to the perfect man that he once was. The Normal Heart is often difficult to watch, but it's important for us to witness the suffering - both emotional and physical - that occurred during the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Murphy doesn't shy away from the increasing darkness of the story, but instead he embraces it, holding it close like a dying lover until the final heart-rending moment.

Barbra Streisand wanted to direct a film version of Kramer's play for many years, but it never came to pass. Other significant movies dealing with the subject of AIDS were released, including Parting Glances (1986) and Longtime Companion (1989), but The Normal Heart also paints a bleak picture of how the administrations of both NYC Mayor Ed Koch and President Ronald Reagan refused to even acknowledge the horrible disease. And now Ryan Murphy, screenwriter Larry Kramer and a stellar cast have given us an exceptional film version that will educate a new generation and remind the rest of us that the fight is still not over.

The Normal Heart debuts this Sunday (May 25) on HBO. Below you can watch the trailer and interviews with the cast.

1 comment:

Mark in DE said...

I thought this was very well done. I believe it showed the onset of the epidemic and the appathy of local and federal lawmakers who could have provided funds much earlier for treatment and research. Mark Ruffalo was amazing!!

I was a little disappointed in the clothing and hairstyles in this 1980s "period" piece.