Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

27 November 2013

Dallas Buyers Club: Not My Drug of Choice

I don't think I'll have much to say about Dallas Buyers Club, although it's the kind of stuff everyone eats up. Matthew McConaughey (who I have been sincerely liking in things lately – not this) and Jared Leto both lose lots and lots of weight for the movie. Their characters are both HIV+ in 1985, and they both want to be nominated for Oscars, so the weight loss makes a lot of sense (that totally worked for the never-before-nominated Christian Bale a couple years ago).

Dallas Buyers reminded me a lot of 2011's Puncture, which I apparently never reviewed but which I disliked quite a bit. (Side note on Puncture: it wanted to be a kind of twenty-first century Silkwood, but it just never really worked.) It reminded me of Puncture because it has a similar kind of fighting-against-the-medical-establishment theme. McConaughey's character, Ron Woodroof is a homophobic Texas asshole who is used to getting everything that he wants in life (did I mention he's a white guy?), so when he contracts HIV he starts paying an orderly to smuggle him out the drugs when he can't get them a legal way.

He keeps drinking and using coke, of course, and so he passes out again - this dude is really sick. Blah blah blah. Anyway, he starts to believe AZT is killing people (it is) and that the big pharma is trying to make money off selling AZT to sick people (it is) and so he tries to bring drugs that the FDA hasn't approved into the U.S. by smuggling them in. The real goal here is to make a lot of money quickly by selling drugs to other HIV+ Texans (almost all gay men – people Woodroof continues to refer to in derogatory terms).
Ms. Leto

He learns lessons, he makes friends with a transvestite (Jared Leto, who I liked more as the film went on), he goes to court, he stops thinking about only himself and starts thinking about the community. You get the drift. The film is absolutely filled to the brim with clichés, and the point is that we are supposed to better understand the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s from the point of view of this homophobic white Texan, instead of the overwhelming number of gay men who are suffering from the disease (to whom, presumably, we would be less likely to relate). I found the whole thing tiresome. It's also filmed in this standard, realistic, hagiographic kind of style that isn't, in fact, a style. From a formerly exciting filmmaker like Jean-Marc Vallée, this is particularly disappointing.

One more thing: Puncture was about fixing a problem with the medical establishment that is still in existence. In other words, the Kassen Brothers were trying to make a film about a particular social problem and to correct something pernicious in our current society. It was a movie about the invention of a syringe that was designed so that you couldn't re-use it. An invention that would actually save the lives of many, many drug-users. Dallas Buyers, on the other hand, is really about rehearsing an injustice from 1985 – all good and well; I write history myself – but the film never brings us into the present day. How has big pharma changed? How does the FDA continue to support big business while getting wealthy off of sick people? If you're gonna make a realist film about social problems, it's fine to set your film in the '80s, but at least bring us all up to speed.


  1. I intentionally didn't read this before seeing the movie because I knew it would ruin it for me. :-) You make completely legitimate points. I, of course, would much rather watch a movie from the queer perspective, watching the effects of this fight through a queer lens. However, I couldn't help but find McConaughey's performance incredibly gripping and captivating--he captured the will to live very powerfully for me. I guess I'm saying I was engaged despite the film's shortcomings in focus and message.--Brent

    1. I totally hear you on this. It is solid and the performances are fun.

    2. Also, I think a movie about the early years of HIV cannot help but make me really, really angry.