by Patrick Bromley
Dallas Buyers Club will get star Matthew McConaughey nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. It might even win him one, though it's unlikely to pick up the momentum it needs for that narrative to pay off. That will ultimately be its legacy: that it is the film for which McConaughey got shockingly thin and for which he was nominated for his first Oscar.
Think about it. It checks all the boxes: shocking physical transformation, based on a true story, character suffering from disease. Oh, and McConaughey is wonderful in the part, capping off an incredible streak of great performances in The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Mud, Killer Joe and Magic Mike (and, if the trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street is any indication, the streak will continue through his next film, too). He plays Ron Woodrooff, a hard-drinking, womanizing, coke-snorting good ol' boy who rides rodeo and works part-time as an electrician in 1985 Texas. When a hospitalization reveals that Woodruff is dying of AIDS, his world is turned upside down. Shunned by his homophobic friends who assume Ron is gay (this was 1985), locked out of his house and fired from his job, Ron's only hope of survival is getting in on some experimental AZT trials at the hospital. But Ron isn't happy with AZT, which nearly kills him; instead, he does his own research and discovers a number of unapproved vitamins and minerals that can help with his symptoms and starts up the Dallas Buyers Club, an organization that supplies valuable medicine to HIV patients who aren't getting the treatment they need.
completely made up shouldn't matter.
While the AIDS crisis of the '80s was a very real, very scary thing (especially in those early days, when it was claiming lives faster than doctors could diagnose it), Dallas Buyers Club fails to shed any real light on the subject. Sometimes, the editing by Martin Penza and Jean-Marc Vallée feels jumpy and immediate, like they're trying to approximate a kind of arthouse "indie-ness" to give the movie a grittier feel. Other times, they play it Hollywood safe, all reaction shots and meaningful freeze frames. It's a movie caught between two worlds. For all its explicit sex, rampant drug use, general seediness and hateful homophobic language, the movie wants to come down on the side of being a safe crowd pleaser. Philadelphia, made without the additional 20 years of hindsight, is a more emotionally affecting, more humane movie about a character living with AIDS. But that's because it was directed by Jonathan Demme, and humanity is what Demme does best.
Dallas Buyers Club is not a bad movie, but it is a movie that uses some strong performances and important subject matter to fake its Greatness. Lucky for them that the Academy can rarely tell the difference.