(originally published Jan 09, 2018)
Call me by Your Name is beautiful coming-of-age romance film whose dreaminess works both for and against it.
Set in an idyllic 1983 summer in Northern Italy, the film follows Elio (in a spectacular turn from the young Timothee Chalamet) as he sits around his wealthy family's insanely gorgeous estate reading books, drinking fresh apricot juice, playing music, and soaking in the sun. Things take a turn when Oliver (Armie Hammer), an adonis graduate student of his father's, shows up to stay with the family for the summer.
This film is pure pleasure distilled into celluloid form. From the tangibly beautiful filmmaking to the intangibly beautiful chemistry between the two leads, there is a true sense of floaty wonder that this film evokes. Every window and door is open in the lush villa where this film takes place, and you can almost feel the cool breeze on your skin while watching. Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer are as excellent as you've heard they are. Chalamet especially delivers a layered performance that made him irresistible to watch, and when he and Hammer were on screen together, it's pure magic.
You can pretty much set your watch to the events that unfold in this film. While it isn't the type of film that really suffers from being predictable, it did prompt my mind to wander, since I never wondered what was gonna happen next. It doesn't help that there's a distinct absence of conflict, with the only thing driving the plot forward being a ticking clock, counting down to the end of summer when Oliver is set to leave.
The film builds to an inevitability, and threw virtually no obstacles at our heroes on its way toward it. And while I appreciate that the conflict is within Elio as he tries to discover himself, it was hard for me to completely invest in it because nothing stood in his way of doing that. On top of that, he's a young, handsome, multi-lingual musical prodigy whose parents are intelligent, successful, and accepting. He lives with them in a stunning villa that is beset on all sides by apricot trees, where the weather is always gorgeous and so are the townspeople. Everyone loves him and his family, and he has nothing standing in his way of having a rich, beautiful life.
So while one part of me is enraptured by this dreamy gaycation of self-discovery, another part of me is thinking, "oh poor you! The hardest part of your life is that you only get to be with one of the sexiest men alive for a few weeks? How horrible!" Of course, this is a cynical way to view things, and probably not the way the author intended it to be viewed, but it was hard for me to completely empathize with Elio's journey of self discovery when nothing stood in his way of achieving it.
By all measures, this is a wonderful piece of emotionally-driven filmmaking, but ultimately your mileage may vary depending on your tolerance for plotless endeavors, especially when they push past the 2-hour mark. For me, they're always a tough sell, but this film did a pretty good job despite it. I was engaged sufficiently by it on an emotional level, even if I found my attention wandering. Warts and all, this is a film worth seeing.