The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyer Club.
Learning that he is HIV positive, a rodeo worker decides to find the drugs that could prolong his life—then makes a living distributing them to HIV+ patients for a fee.
“A genius is always one person at a time.” Those were Matthew McConaughey’s words at the recent SAG Awards, and right now he seems to be the genius of the moment. In just eight months he’s had a starring role as a kindly fugitive/drifter (Mud), a small role in a well-liked Scorsese picture (The Wolf of Wall Street), and a plum part as a haunted Texas cop in an HBO series (True Detective). And of course he’s favored to win Best Actor for his charismatic and poignant performance in this fine film. His part is fascinating to watch; it’s about half the smooth-talking, swaggering Matthew we know so well and half a frightened, desperate man in a weakened condition we’ve never seen before. McConaughey lost a reported 47 pounds for the role, and the gauntness emphasizes both his character’s frailness and his own intensity.
As a free-spirited, free-loving, drinking and drugging rodeo stagehand in 1985, Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) hasn’t a care in the world—until a minor accident lands him in the hospital. When he learns his blood tests positive for HIV and doctors give him 30 days to live, he refuses to believe it—hell, he ain’t gay. But library research suggests that he is indeed infected and suggests treatments that may prolong his life. When sympathetic doctor Eve (Jennifer Garner) can’t prescribe him the AZT he wants, Woodroof bribes hospital workers into sneaking him the pills.
And when that goes sour, he drives to Mexico and meets with a smart doctor disbarred from US practice. The doc tells him that AZT may be dangerous and puts Woodroof on peptide T and ddC instead. Woodroof buys a trunkload of the stuff, takes it back to Texas, and tries to sell it out of his car to local AIDS sufferers. But with no ties to the affected gay community, he struggles to move product until Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender AIDS patient, struts into his life. She supplies the market, he supplies the product. They’re in business.
Run out of a hotel room and set up as a “buyer’s club” to skirt the law, Woodroof and Rayon’s livelihood goes through the roof. So much so that Eve’s boss, who’s losing AIDS patients to the Dallas Buyers Club, calls the FDA and blows the whistle on the enterprise. But wiry, angry Woodroof won’t be called off so easily, and even takes the FDA, hospital doctors, and AZT makers to task for their irresponsible treatments.
Nearly as remarkable as McConaughey in this film—often moreso—is Jared Leto as Rayon. His commitment is a thing to watch; he imbues this very feminine character with utter conviction, showing confidence and vivacity without resorting to mincing or camp a la Nathan Lane. It would be great to see him get the other male acting Oscar for this memorable supporting role.
The film is fascinating (you really learn a lot about AIDS treatment options), exciting, funny, smart, and only a bit sad. It’s just an incredible true story that you feel you’re experiencing alongside these remarkable people. Though Woodroof is dying, he doesn’t pity himself nor ask us to do so. He’s just trying to make a difference with the time he has left, and isn’t that what we all want, too?
Dallas Buyers Club is now playing in theaters in limited release, and drops on DVD February 4. It’s rated R and runs 117 minutes.