The Normal Heart
Directed by Ryan Murphy
HBO Home Entertainment
Reviewed by Robert Kingett
Sometimes it takes a raindrop to ignite a tidal wave when fighting for equality. It all starts on the beach one day in 1981. The sun is shining, ships are docking, and people are laughing and having a grand old time. In the blink of an eye, however, a gay man collapses on the beach, starting the domino effect that will sprout activism, demand justice, and conjure up the journey of a man who won’t let go of what should be done for the betterment of the gay community. In this HBO drama called The Normal Heart viewers are shown the power of persistence and resilience as one AIDS activist just won’t give up, something that’s strongly carried through until the end. It focuses on the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984, as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks, a gay Jewish-American founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group.
The Normal Heart is directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Larry Kramer, based on his own 1985 play of the same name. The film stars Mark Ruffalo [A&U, May 2014] as Ned Weeks, Jonathan Groff as Craig Donner, Matt Bomer as Felix Turner, Taylor Kitsch as Bruce Niles, Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright, Alfred Molina as Ben Weeks, Joe Mantello as Mickey Marcus, and Julia Roberts as Dr. Emma Brookner, who by far gives the best performance out of the cast. Nailing her script, she brings omnipotent fervor to any line she utters.
This movie is not a cut-and-dry recounting of events and situations; rather, it’s a medium for people, gay or straight, to learn what the fear of HIV and AIDS is all about. The events happening in the movie tend to jump without a clear transition but the viewer immediately feels what all the characters on screen feel, partly because the portrayal of characters is so realistic and engaging. This is the unmatched strength of the movie.
It is because of this method of storytelling, however, that the movie may have to be seen multiple times before appreciating all the things the director wants to show people. What remains vital here is a vast look at people affected by a disease that nobody wants to talk about or even bring out into the open with research. It’s a glimpse into the straight woman who lost her friend. It is a hard, sad look into a man losing his partner. It is a powerful focus on diligence and determined individuals. Even though it is all of these things with many more facets, there are still layers missing from the film. The feelings and emotions and character connections are there and felt, but the portrayal of infection is limited to white gay men. Lesbians are rarely mentioned and there were not any portrayals of black people as main characters.
The Normal Heart, which is soon available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD, is a solid movie that shows viewers things that they may have known about people and a lot of things that many do not know. It shows the emotions and feelings of that time in the gripping clasp of brilliant actors, but there’s a limited representation of blacks and women that’s noticeable and takes away from the verisimilitude that this film captures so well in other areas. It’s certainly a movie to watch and share and appreciate for its powerfully riveting delivery but the limited portrayal of lives affected, all the same gender and race, will leave something missing that keeps this movie from being an all-inclusive experience.
The Normal Heart debuts on Blu-ray ($24.99), DVD ($19.97) and Digital HD on August 26, 2014. Features include an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the true story that inspired the film, complemented by cast and crew interviews, and the Blu-ray and DVD also include a Digital HD copy.
Journalist Robert Kingett covers many beats, including human interest stories, disability awareness, business, crime, politics, video games, celebrity interviews, and reviews. He has been published in several anthologies and has been asked to guest blog for many Web sites. He has been featured on sites such as IGN, Polygon, and others. Twitter: @theblindwriter; Facebook: www.facebook.com/robertkingett; LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/kingettr.