Review Roundup – The Spectacular Now and Dallas Buyers Club

The Spectacular Now (2013)

Hey, couple reviews on websites other than this one.

First is for The Spectacular Now over at The 500 Club. I really, really liked this one, and it’ll be ranked quite highly when I put my top films of the year list together.

Second review is for Dallas Buyers Club which was also really good, if somewhat problematic with its use of a heterosexual perspective to examine homosexuality.

The Spectacular Now Rating: 179/200

Dallas Buyers Club Rating: 157/200

8 thoughts on “Review Roundup – The Spectacular Now and Dallas Buyers Club

  1. Completely agreed on The Spectacular Now. Still one of my favorite films of the year, largely because the relationship always feels genuine. I think Sutter’s coming of age is rushed, but otherwise that movie is terrific.

    I have seen others make the same criticisms of Dallas Buyer’s Club. I agree with some of them. The movie definitely hero-fies Woodruff too much – in fact I made the same point in my review. I also think the movie would have been better served more accurately depicting the truth of medications it includes. But I’m not sure I agree with your larger point. I don’t think this film is about homophobia, latent or otherwise. It’s about the influence special interests and money have on policy makers, and how policy often hurts the very people it claims to help. I think this is a very calculated and deliberate choice by the filmmakers; we now KNOW, beyond any doubt, that AIDS is not a gay person’s disease. Plus, our modern world has increased acceptance of alternative sexualities (clearly we haven’t perfected anything yet, but we are much better than the 1980s world Dallas Buyer’s Club portrays), which means this movie doesn’t want to be primarily about the queer condition.

    No. It’s a message film that uses AIDS history and advocacy as a vehicle to demonize the way public health policy is set. As such, it focuses on the characters most involved in the creation of said public policy. Those characters are Woodruff, the FDA employees, Dr. Saks, her bosses, and Rayon. Woodruff’s customers are pushed to the side, because the film isn’t primarily about them, their lifestyle, or their plight. Which is why I have no issue with the way this movie portrays queer characters. In fact, I think Dallas Buyer’s Club makes them feel like people. Not GAY people.

    • I see where you’re coming from, and certainly I’ve deliberately expanded upon a theme that’s more subtext than text. I’d also agree that the film doesn’t want to be about the queer condition, that its emphasis is more on the development of public policy in regards to such issues.

      But I disagree that it’s not about homophobia. The blatant homophobia of Woodroof’s colleagues/”friends” is a huge part of the first act, and that’s not accidental. It just disappears into the kind of dog-whistle homophobia that defined the debate about AIDS in this era. Yes, we now know that AIDS isn’t the “gay disease” that it was considered at the time, but that doesn’t mean that policy – not just from the FDA – wasn’t tainted by homophobia.

      I think the key line that supports my read is one of the last, when the judge chastises the FDA for their disproportionate response to Woodroof’s actions (I think this was specifically in regards to Peptide T). It’s hard not to see this as the film telling you what this element of the story is about. It’s about the FDA not react responsibly but having a kind of vendetta. That isn’t explicitly outlined as being related to homophobia, but given the other explanation is “they just really don’t like Woodroof” I think the earlier explanation makes more sense.

      I don’t necessarily have a big problem with the film not having a tonne of gay characters – that’s understandable, even if it stems from the choice to tell this kind of story with a straight rather than queer protagonist (I have no doubt there are similar stories with gay men in Woodroof’s shoes). My issue is, as I said in the review, more strongly related to how queer characters are represented. Leto is great in the role, but there seems to be a conscious effort to make him as different as possible from Woodroof – he’s a drug addict, a transexual, he’s flamboyant, he’s a whole list of queer cliches. Of course, real people can be defined by cliches, but I felt it was a misstep for the film to try and emphasis the straight perspective in this way. It doesn’t ruin the film or anything – I still really liked it! – but that doesn’t make it fine.

      • I agree to a point. Homophobia is a huge element in the plot – Woodruff’s own homophobia, after all, is the key part of him that changes by the end of the movie. I just don’t think homophobia is the plot’s raison d’être, as it were. And it certainly isn’t the primary theme.

        I will also agree that Rayon borders on stereotype – hadn’t thought of that before now, but you’re right. She does. I am not, however, sure all of the gay characters do. No matter judgements of his appearance, Rayon’s friend (or partner) is of minor significance, but his personality isn’t a stereotype, really. Either are the two men who give Woodruff the house. Obviously also minor characters, but the point remains, they feel like people first.

        After watching the film, I wondered why the creative team opted for a straight protagonist, especially since plenty of other buyer’s clubs existed, and at least one had to have been run by someone who happened to be gay. I assume the decision had something to do with how long Woodruff survived, but having not done any research, I can’t know if others survived just as long. Or longer. I also assume that’s not the only reason. I figure they were trying to keep focus on their message, and feared a homosexual protagonist would make Dallas Buyer’s Club too much about being “gay.” Or maybe they just didn’t think about it. 😉

      • Yeah, there’s a clear attempt to make this an AIDS film rather than a “gay film.” Which is fine, but it considers issues that revolve around the queer (and primarily, the gay male) community as such a large aspect of the film that I would have appreciated a stronger queer perspective. I think the idea of making a story around Woodroof has been going around Hollywood for decades now, since an interview with him not long before his death, but there’s some (latent) homophobia associated with the focus on the straight outlier – “the privileged saviour of the great unwashed,” so to speak – rather than the queer community.

        As I said, I believe Rayon was completely made up for the film, so the filmmakers were clearly aware of the need for a gay perspective. And there are some “normal” (huge giant quotation marks) queer characters in the film – specifically the ones you mention – but I never really felt a sense of a queer community (compare to Milk). It’s not a huge issue – and I may not have focused on it in such detail if my article hadn’t been for a queer-friendly website – but I do think it’s an issue with the film.

      • Oh, and thanks for the detailed replies! Always a pleasure to have a disagreement grounded in careful thought 🙂

    • He’s really done impressive work over the last few years, starting around Bernie. The “McConaughssaince,” as I’ve heard it described..

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