Thank you, James Woods. As is now legend, the corrosive actor tried to slime Call Me By Your Name, and it backfired as majorly as Trump’s attacks on John McCain last year. Woods called the fictional movie—about a 1983 romance between Oliver, a 24-year-old grad student, and Elio, a 17-year-old son of a professor, in Italy—an example of gay moral decay, and that turned out to be the best thing that could have happened, p.r.-wise, for the movie.
Last month, Woods bitterly tweeted, “As they quietly chip away at the last barriers of decency,” referring to the horrifying (to him) age difference in the film. But the twitterati, including Call Me co-star Armie Hammer, quickly came out in force to remind everyone that Woods has screwed people at least 40 years his junior! And Amber Tamblyn insisted that once, Woods offered to pick her and a friend up and take them to Vegas, and when she informed the actor that she was 16, he replied, “Even better.” (Fortunately, according to Tamblyn, she was wise enough to not go into the Woods.)
In condemning the movie—which by all reports was sweet and idyllic—Woods unwittingly pointed up the hypocrisy of this kind of phobia while unwittingly giving the film tons of advance publicity. James Woods criticizing moral decay is like Donald Trump saying the media is all fake—a bad idea. But he should be getting a large bouquet of thanks—filled with pansies, perhaps—from the film’s production team very soon, if they have any decency at all.
And guess what? I just saw the film at the New York Film Festival and found it to be exquisite, as it tells a simple story involving complicated characters in a leisurely but highly rewarding way. After the film—which was written by James Ivory, based on the novel by Andre Aciman—director Luca Guadagnino explained that he wanted to avoid coming-of-age clichés and stay away from narration or flashbacks, and he’s done so, making the result immediate, sensual, and real.
This isn’t just “Hot man arrives and wham—hubba hubba.” It’s way more complex than that, as the student and the teen go through awkward interactions, some light antagonism, and half-hearted exchanges and silences before finally consummating and realizing the extent of their bond. Armie Hammer—who reeks of old-time movie star glamour à la Gary Cooper or Guy Madison—is superb as the cocky but ultimately vulnerable Oliver, and Timothee Chalamet matches him all the way as the feisty teen in the throes of a hell of an awakening. Both characters are dabbling in dating women, but find a pull that becomes so strong they indulge in the game of the title—a sort of pre-same-sex-marriage ritual where you share the same name, though in this case, it’s exchanging first names that makes them whole.
There are a couple of heavy-handed touches—there’s lots of ripening fruit in this orchard, plus a reading of a fairy tale about unspoken love—and Oliver doesn’t seem to study all that much when you come down to it. But the film is as lush and beautiful as the northern Italian landscape it’s set against, and its use of the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” will make you hear that song in a new, achingly romantic light. And it’s full of unusual moments—like the way Elio first opens his mouth to kiss Oliver, which is reminiscent of the large, gasping fish that an old man was trotting around the town as catch of the day. It all leads to a wise monologue by the kid’s dad, which is so deftly delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg that it could get him an Oscar nomination. By that point, you’ve realized that this is a refreshing movie about gay love that doesn’t deal in the usual doses of crushing homophobia and violence. (Elio briefly makes fun of a gay couple, but he’s projecting his own anxieties, and he gets over it). It’s strictly about the hesitations and passions of the two people involved, as they play out their life-changing summer romance. I strongly advise you to see it when it opens next month. It’s worth it alone for the scene where Oliver uses oral sex as a sort of a hot litmus test.
Also at the New York Film Festival, I saw the opening night film, Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, which has three Vietnam vets reuniting to bury one of their sons, who died in Iraq, prompting all sorts of reminiscences and meditations. Bryan Cranston does well as the lit-up ex-marine who says whatever he feels, while Steve Carell plays a withdrawn man who’s traumatized by family tragedies and Laurence Fishburne is the marine who’s found faith and become a preacher. The result is a shockingly standard buddy/reunion/road movie without nearly enough insight into war or fatality, though it does meander to a moving finish.
Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) deals with a family war—the struggle between two brothers as dad faces a life-threatening disorder and forces the family members into the same discussion, à la the 2007 film The Savages, which it should probably be shown with. Ben Stiller plays the winner who went off to L.A., whereas brother Adam Sandler stewed in his relative failure (and overload of responsibilities), causing a seemingly unresolvable rift. When their underappreciated artist dad Dustin Hoffman gets sick, it unites them in urgency, but also instigates the flaring up of unspoken resentments. There’s a lot of rat-tat-tat talking and it can be annoying, but by time the plot starts percolating, things get insightful and there are witty takes on the way doctors and nurses behave (basically, like human beings) and the importance of legacy in a transient world. Stiller is terrific, and I also loved Elizabeth Marvel as the damaged sister and Rebecca Miller as a bright new light in Sandler’s life.
The festival has also brought us Lady Bird by Baumbach’s beloved Greta Gerwig, providing another quirky winner about flawed people trying to find the light. Gerwig digs into her own memory bank for the film about a square-peg type (played by Saoirse Ronan) wanting way more out of life as she grows up in Sacramento 15 years ago. The girl—who discovers theater, boys, and restlessness at a Catholic school–insists on calling herself Lady Bird because she rejects the name, and other things, given to her by her contentious mother (Laurie Metcalf) and downsized dad (Tracy Letts). As she continues to defy expectations, the film is full of fresh observations—and Sondheim songs—and the cast is superb, with Ronan truly capturing Gerwig’s impatient deadpan and Metcalf deftly probing mom’s well-meaningly awful ways. I also liked the Jim Morrison wannabe who romances Lady Bird (He’s played by Timothee Chalamet from Call Me By Your Name!) and also Lady Bird’s moody best friend, played by the likeable Beanie Feldstein (who’s Minnie Fay in Broadway’s Hello, Dolly!) And then there’s a suitor who doesn’t want to touch Lady Bird’s breasts because he respects her…or that’s what he says anyway. I won’t give the real reason away, preferring you to uncover the joys of Lady Bird on your own, not unlike the way Lady Bird herself—or, rather, Christine—does about life after Sacramento.
There She Is…
The 26th annual Miss’d America drag pageant—a benefit for worthy causes—beckoned at the Borgata in Atlantic City, and I wouldn’t have Miss’d it for the world. I used to be asked to judge the pageant, but maybe it’s better this way: I can watch the contest in peace without worrying about incurring the wrath of drag queens who didn’t win and inevitably blame me for the entire vote. Last year, Mimi Imfurst nabbed the title by wowing the crowd to the tune of “I’m just a sweet transvestite from transsexual Pennsylvania.” This time, the show started with Mimi doing a pseudo-patriotic number, which segued into a red-white-and-blue “American Idiot,” complete with videos of Trump messing up. At the climax, Mimi sardonically threw rolls of paper towels at the crowd, but there was no flop sweat to wipe up. Host Carson Kressley kept things fun, saying after one contestant’s talent, “I don’t want to pull a Putin and influence the election, but that was really good,” and commending another aspirant’s performance by saying, “She was like Valentina, but with talent. Everyone loves Valentina, but she can’t lipsynch!”
Fortunately, all of this night’s contestants could do so. Coming in third was Tina Burner, who performed an “Anything Goes” mashup complete with sound bites about…yep…Trump messing up. (Tina also scored in the Q&A segment, when she was asked which notable male she’d like to style and replied that she’d dress Trump in drag so he could walk a mile in our heels and perhaps finally learn something.) The first runner-up was Texas’s Sapphira Cristal, who answered “Which Golden Girl are you? with “I’m Blanche…I like a power bottom.” But the top (as it were) prize went to Boots & Saddles’ own Pattaya Hart, who dazzled by dancing a slithery “All That Jazz” with an assortment of male backup dancers adding to the jazz-hands-heavy heat. Afterwards, I asked Pattaya how many times she’d seen Chicago on Broadway. “Only twice,” she replied, “but I moved to New York to study Fosse. Chita Rivera is my idol,” she added, and I was so relieved because Pattaya had just done the Catherine Zeta-Jones movie version. I love Chita so much I ask tricks to call me by her name.