The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name is destined to be one of the most talked-about films of the year. Based on the novel by Andre Aciman, it deals with what might be the most taboo of all subjects. Director Luca Guadagnino brings great artistry and compassion to the story, which will forever change the way you think of peaches and the way you listen to the Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way". At the same time, you may experience a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach as you watch.

Set in Italy during the early '80s, the film stars Timothee Chalamet as Elio, a 17-year-old who lives there with his mother and academic father (Michael Stuhlbarg). One summer, a visitor arrives to stay with the family. He is Oliver (Armie Hammer), an adult research assistant. Oliver is somewhat aloof, which only makes him fascinating to Elio. Although he dates girls, Elio finds himself attracted to the houseguest and slowly awakening to his sexuality. Surprisingly, Oliver not only encourages this, he reciprocates, albeit in his own good time and his own unique way. Soon, the two are in the throes of a secret romance.

Call Me by Your Name is very much a languid coming-of-age story that shows how Elio learns to accept feelings he didn't know he had until Oliver came along. Guadagnino takes great care to unfold the scenario so that we can soak in every step of the process. Early scenes demonstrate that Elio has awareness of his own sexual urges, yet the more time he spends with Oliver, the more those urges surprise him. We can see that their intensity hits him in ways he could not have predicted.

The interplay between the two main characters is engrossing. Chalamet provides Elio with a strong sense of adolescent insouciance that gradually gives way to intense interest in the desires that are stirred up within him. That contrasts nicely with Oliver who, as superbly portrayed by Hammer, is experienced enough to know when to show what he's feeling and when to hold things closer to the vest. Because of the quality of the performances and the nature of the characters, Call Me by Your Name insightfully shows how forbidden passions require a delicate dance before they can fully be acted upon.

That leads to the story's third act, which finds Elio coming into full sexual bloom. Something that initially scares him proves to be liberating once he finally embraces it. All of this is set against the backdrop of Italy in the summer, the warmth and glow of the season mirroring the young character's blossoming.

Roger Ebert frequently quoted writer Robert Warshow, who once said, A man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man. Right now is an appropriate occasion for me to admit I am that man. As well-made as Call Me by Your Name is, I did not emotionally connect to it. In fact, I think that I subconsciously resisted forming an emotional connection to it. Over the years, I have known a number of people who engaged in romantic affairs with adults when they were teenagers. It is disturbing to me that an adult would consider something like this, when they are supposed to be the mature, reasonable ones.

The film, despite containing many truths about attraction and repression, portrays the relationship between Oliver and Elio as nothing but beautiful. There may be beautiful things about this fictional relationship, yet it feels to me that there should be at least some acknowledgement of the very real repercussions such trysts can have. Adults becoming sexually involved with teenagers can lead to confusion, angst, and even despair for the younger participants. There is a level of exploitation to it that Call Me by Your Name never begins to broach.

Perhaps the film is simply too effective. One certainly feels the bond between the leads, with explicit scenes of intimacy radiating believable chemistry. Because the events that take place are shown with such specificity, shaking off the uncomfortable aspect of the central romance was tough for me, just as it may be tough for others.

Call Me by Your Name is a work that I admired for its technique and performances. I did not, however, enjoy the way it made me feel.

Note: I'm not going to give this movie a star rating. I don't know how many stars to award it, and anything I'd choose would somehow seem inaccurate.

Call Me by Your Name is rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language. The running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.

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