Awards season has arrived, and the Academy has chosen to celebrate a myriad of films this year, most of whom are wholly deserving – with the exception, in my opinion, of a few. One of those is Call Me By Your Name, a critically acclaimed adaptation of a steaming romance novel by Andre Aciman. The story depicts the tale of Elio, an Italian-American boy living in Italy, and his sensual romance with Oliver, an American scholar who is there to complete an internship. The film has been widely praised for pushing the boundaries of Hollywood depictions of LGBT romance, and here I am just sitting here scratching my head and wondering if the film I watched is the same one you all did.
Last year, the buzzed-about LGBT+ film of the year was Moonlight – and it deserved every accolade it was awarded. Directed by Barry Jenkins and being comprised of an entirely Black cast (literally, not a single white actor shows up in any frame of the movie), the film deals with the weighty topics of intersection – the intersection, of course, of being Black and Gay in a world that detests people of both backgrounds. It was a beautiful film, down to every aspect. The acting, the score, the cinematography, the script, the three-act structure, the message behind it all. Moonlight’s Best Picture win was far more than the La La Land snafu it was involved with.
The film had so much to say with so little – about the different forms of pain and disregard from communities you’re supposed to be a part of, the LGBT+ community’s ostracizing from the dating world, the beauty in dark skin tones, the wonder, and awkwardness of first sexual experience, the torment of teen bullying. And every message fired at all cylinders. In a world where the LGBT+ narrative has been crafted as overwhelmingly white, Moonlight took that and ran in the opposite direction.
So Call Me By Your Name‘s first flaw, without question, is its overwhelming whiteness. Hey – I’m not surprised, with a film entitled Call Me By Your Name that takes place in Italy, where people of color were completely left out. But this movie supplements predictable white people romances with predictable white gay people romances, down to the unnecessary longing stares and conversations that ultimately don’t need to be said. Elio and Oliver’s ramblings are things Kevin and Chiron delivered to each other effortlessly, through a single look.
Then, the overtly sexual nature of Elio’s character is something to be celebrated. He’s a teenager, experiencing attraction and newness for the first time. It’s one element that Moonlight didn’t play off of. But my question becomes, then: why doesn’t the movie fully embrace this sexuality? Why does it set up such a tantalizing divider of individuality, only to neuter itself right where it counted? The fade-to-black style sex scenes, and the implied raciness, only stop the film from being something truly memorable. One of the best parts of all the good romance films are their sex scenes; shouldn’t that apply to LGBT+ romances, too?
Not to mention the fact that the age difference between Elio and Oliver, 17 and 24, is sinister and predatory. The film tries its hardest to get us not to see the clear problem with a relationship between what is essentially a grown man and a child. Despite Elio only being a year away from adulthood legally, it’s still wrong for a grown man to seek out a teenager in a romantic capacity, no matter how you look at it. Pedophilia is already far too tied to the LGBT+ community, and this film only furthers those stereotypes.
But ultimately, where Call Me By Your Name fails as a picture is that it’s just too damn boring. Straight-laced, with surface-level messages we’ve seen before and “good” acting we’ve seen before. I put “good” in air quotes because while Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer certainly do a nice job in their scenes, their performances all feel like typical Oscar bait at this point. The locations, the sweeping shots, even the music. We’ve. Seen. This. Before. Taking the usual Oscar format and making it gay doesn’t change the fact that the format is stale and frankly unneeded.
With Moonlight, Barry Jenkins took the bare-bones template of what it means to be an “Oscar-bait” film and redefined that. Using his own words, he “brought the arthouse to the hood”. He called upon Blackness, both in the way the characters acted and in the way the film was presented. And that was something truly unique. Something I hadn’t seen before. In every way possible, Moonlight was crafted to win awards. But it did that crafting in a bold, distilled manner that makes Call Me By Your Name seems like a cool ride down the lazy river in comparison.
Moonlight is, without question, one of the best films ever made. It’s certainly one of the best films to ever win Best Picture, and that’s because it’s one of the few films that actually says something. And not only does it speak to you, but when it opens its mouth, it wears its heart on its sleeve, grabs you and refuses to let go until you understand the point. Call Me By Your Name tries, but fails to recapture this magic, relying far too long on prolonged story points and predictable mushiness. The nickname that has been given to the film, “Moonwhite”, is extremely apt – but, simply put, in terms of the success of Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name could never.