This review originally ran as part of our Sundance coverage on January 24, 2017. With Call Me By Your Name now in theaters, we are presenting it again.
There’s a scene near the end of Call Me By Your Name, which premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival, where Michael Stuhlbarg’s character delivers some of the most touching and heartfelt advice to his son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), that I’ve ever seen on a movie screen. It’s the kind of scene that stops a viewer dead in his or her tracks because we know we’re watching something so special. Then we can’t help but think how many lives wouldn’t have been damaged if everyone had a parent this empathetic and wise. (I’ll come back to this.)
Armie Hammer’s breakout role came by playing the Winklevoss twins in 2010’s now-classic The Social Network. (And it is crazy that movie is now pushing seven years old.) And he played the roles perfectly as brash, imposing and being able to deliver a cocky one-liner. But then Hollywood couldn’t quite figure out what to do with him.
His follow-up was as Clyde Tolson in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, a role and movie that looked much more interesting on paper than the drab result that Eastwood delivered. The Lone Ranger flopped at the box office, but this wasn’t Hammer’s fault – that movie is impossibly weird and strangely violent in comparison to how it was marketed and has already been reassessed as something unique and unusual in today’s blockbuster landscape. But even though Hammer might have those leading man, blockbuster movie looks, that’s not really where his talents lie.
(Strangely, one of my favorite performances from Hammer came when he played himself in the Entourage movie, of all things. This is not an actor who’s afraid to make fun of himself.)
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is underrated (I like this movie quite a bit), but I’m not convinced Hammer sporting a thick Russian accent is the best use of his talents. And in Nocturnal Animals, he’s the dickish, rich cheating husband that I was afraid Hammer was about to be typecast as forever.
Finally, finally, director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) realized a way to use Hammer’s talents appropriately in Call Me By Your Name.
Hammer plays Oliver, an academic who is living with the Perlman family in Northern Italy circa 1983. Oliver is tall, handsome, seemingly confident, charming and sometimes a little arrogant. (A running joke in the film is when Oliver leaves a conversation he will just say “later” and takes off.) Elio soon finds himself intrigued by Oliver, and slowly that intrigue turns into something else that Elio is confused by, yet he can’t help himself from taking action.
There’s a beautiful scene when Elio tells Oliver about his feelings, staged around a small circular World War I memorial as the two keep getting further and further away from each other, than meeting on the other side. Oliver has feelings for Elio as well, but cautions that nothing can happen and advises Elio to just forget this was ever brought up and to continue on like nothing has ever happened.
Of course, that doesn’t last long. It starts with some innocent kissing in a field, then soon becomes scheduled rendezvous in remote locations for fear of getting caught by Elio’s parents (which would be devastating for both Elio and Oliver). Both actors are wonderful, but was Hammer does here is majestic. He could easily come off as the older creep, but that doesn’t happen. Hammer’s performance is loving and respectful and tender. He’s not taking advantage of Elio – Oliver genuinely has feelings for him – but is also deeply concerned this might be too much for the young man. The way this is all handled is touching and beautiful.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another recurring joke: Oliver’s dancing. Oh, he’s a big fan of the Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way” and breaks into maybe the funniest little ‘80s dance I’ve ever seen, mostly due to watching the impossibly tall Hammer in his short ‘80s shorts breaking into the lamest of dances– but yet he sells it with such gumption, if I saw this happening in real life it would be impossible not to just join in with him.)
At the beginning of this piece I mentioned Michael Stuhlbarg’s advice to Elio. I am not a parent, but I feel like I might make a better parent someday after watching this. Maybe it should be required viewing for new parents. Without giving too much away, it’s a master class in empathy in a situation where saying the wrong thing at this moment could damage Elio forever. It’s a statement on what we do to ourselves as we get older to protect ourselves emotionally, but in return slowly losing the passion that made us feel – losing the emotions that made us human and instead of burying those emotions, we should cherish them. It’s something only an older person can say to a younger person, and maybe something only the older person can even understand. Call Me By Your Name is a triumph of humanity.
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