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« Agent Linker | Main | Personal Ballots Continued: Editing, Makeup, Visual FX »
Wednesday
Jan272016

HBO’s LGBT History: The Normal Heart (2014)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we swooned over Dane DeHaan’s pitch perfect portrayal of a self-serious gay NYC teen in In Treatment and this week we’re returning to what continues to be HBO’s most cherished LGBT theme: the AIDS crisis. We’ve talked about it here, there, and here, here, and yep, here again… Much of this project has been about discovery, but The Normal Heart is still relatively recent and so below find some words I’d dispatched when I first saw it close to two years ago.

“And every gay man who refuses to come forward now and fight to save his own life is truly helping to kill the rest of us.” — Ned Weeks

Anger fuels much of The Normal Heart and the play/film’s ability to showcase such raw and seemingly useless feeling is one of the more extraordinary things to come out of Kramer’s life and work. Curmudgeoney as Kramer and Ned Weeks may come off, their anger is not only justified but necessary. It makes for a tacit and probably unintentional meta-nod to have the Hulk himself play him. [More...]

Ruffalo so quickly turns a limp hand into an exasperated wrist that characters and audiences alike are bound to recoil in fear (of what that fist and its accompanying loud mouth can do) and shame (for what one’s own fist and mouth refuse to do).

Indeed, it is that type of anger which seems to have evaporated from the LGBT community. The rage and subsequent outrage that fueled ACT UP and the activism of the 1980s seems now only to bubble up over language policing (witness RuPaul’s “tranny” kerfuffle). This is not surprising given the way in which normality (oh how ironic Kramer’s title looks from the vantage point of a, ugh, “post-gay” landscape) and complacency has settled into our ranks, as we seek for a place at the table, at the altar, at the barracks, seldom critically looking at what those places demand of us as a community. Too often we have merely asked to be acknowledged; tolerated even, something Kramer himself stages in one of the most heartbreaking moments (and oh there are plenty) of the piece:

Ben: My agreeing you were born just like I was born is not going to help save your dying friends.
Ned: Funny – that’s exactly what I think will help save my dying friends.

When Weeks pleads with his brother to recognize him as his equal the issues of citizenship, marriage licenses, DADT, discrimination, and harassment are clearly in the back of his mind, but the pressing issue was never solely that tacit acceptance. It signaled the start of a movement, not its end-point.

Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart may wear its eponymous organ proudly (if strategically) on its sleeve, but it is in its pulsating anger that it stages a necessary and harrowing cry for help, for awareness, for solidarity, and above all, for love.

As for Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart? Well… I’d say let’s ignore that entire bathhouse sequence, but then we’d have to do away with the very sexy scene between Ruffalo and Bomer. Someone should really have sat Murphy down and reminded him that he need not embellish for the sake of embellishment, especially when the material is this strong. Case in point: the funeral scene which is simple and therefore exquisite (props to Jim Parsons who is so so good in this).

Fun Awards Fact: The Normal Heart had the pedigree to be the type of awards-sweeper that past HBO productions had been and yet… it earned just two Emmys (out of 16 nominations), one Golden Globe (for Matt Bomer) and one SAG Award (for Mark Ruffalo). And yes, Julia Roberts’s juicy role didn’t earn her any accolades: just as at the 1991 Oscars, she got to sit back and watch Kathy Bates win their shared category at the Emmys.

Next Week: From the AIDS crisis to the marriage equality fight. We’ll be looking at The Case Against 8, the doc that looks at the Supreme Court decision that overturned the California Prop 8 which banned same-sex marriage.

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Reader Comments (9)

YES to Jim Parsons in this! I was so surprised that the Emmy's (that supporting actor snub!) and the Globes didn't take to this more.

January 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBD

And yes, Julia Roberts’ juicy role didn’t earn her any accolades: just as at the 1991 Oscars, she got to sit back and watch Kathy Bates win their shared category at the Emmys.

Please don't forget Danny Huston was seated directly behind Bates. It truly was a recreation of the 63rd Academy Awards Best Actress category.

January 27, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Oh gosh, THE CASE AGAINST 8 is not a good movie. :/

January 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Julia Roberts is so good in this! She should've won the Emmy.

January 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

I got so mad when Bomer replaced my adored John Benjamin Hickey. Got to admit he did a phenomenal job. I'm not talking about the extreme weight loss, I'm talking about the frailty and the love for Ruffalo.

January 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Matt Bomer also won Television Critics Choice Award for his role.

January 27, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterkm

Julia was great here! Mark Ruffalo was uneven, much like his career- my favorite supporting actor choice in 2014 for Foxcatcher and my least favorite (should not have even been close to getting a nomination for Spotlight) in 2015.

Parsons was fantastic in that scene.

January 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I really liked this film. The acting was outstanding, even from actors that I normally don't care for (Kitsch)

January 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrittani

Good performances in this, not-so-good direction. Does anyone else get annoyed with Ryan Murphy's inability to let the camera sit on a single scene for more than 10 seconds?

January 28, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

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