We seem to be going through a bit of a renaissance of coming of age films featuring gay characters. Last year, Moonlight came out to critical acclaim, with exceedingly high critical meta scores, and also walking away with the Academy award for Best Picture among the many it received. For a follow-up, 2017 provided another critical darling about the coming of age of a young gay man with Call Me by Your Name.
Set in early 1980’s Northern Italy, Call Me by Your Name focuses on the budding relationship between the 17-year-old Elio, and Oliver, who is a research assistant for Elio’s father and is living with them for the summer. Elio begins to develop feelings for Oliver shortly after his arrival and spends the first part of the film trying inching closer to Oliver who initially seems aloof.
Once their relationship begins in earnest, there is not much standing in its way, as it pretty much carries on throughout the film without a hitch. This leads to one of the main factors of the film: it lacks conflict. Among the many other characters in the film, none of them seem to object to their relationship. His mother figures it out first and is supportive of it. His father discovers it later and is equally supportive of it. Even Elio’s girlfriend, who he naturally has to break up with at some point throughout the film, is perfectly fine with the realization and remains friends with Elio after their separation.
There are no forces at work in the film that stand in the way of this relationship- internally or externally. Neither of the characters has any hesitation about it, nor is there any source of outside pressure on the two young men. For many films, a lack of a central conflict would be disastrous; stories need stakes, and generally one that lacks any is going to be dull.
One of the strongest aspects of Call Me by Your Name is that not only can it survive a lack of conflict, but that it has managed to thrive without one. In many ways, this likely makes the film far more realistic. Rarely do real world relationships mirror the types that play out in the theater. They tend to a little more uneventful, and will come to a natural conclusion on their own without some sort or contrived obstacle bringing them down.
In a year that is lacking in prominant male performances, both Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer stand out with two of the best performances of the year.
The other strength of the film lies in its performances. The two leads, Timothée Chalamet as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver, both deliver terrific performances that are able to sell the relationship between the two characters. Another standout moment comes from Michael Stuhlbarg, who delivers a stirring monologue which is necessary for the real impact of the film to be felt.
Call Me by Your Name has very few faults to detract from it, however, there is something about it that is incredibly familiar. In some ways, it feels exactly like 2011’s Blue is the Warmest Color. Both films feature a homosexual relationship between a high school aged student and an older college aged student. The younger of the two is a little more trepidations about the relationship while the older one is more self-assured in their sexuality and tends to take the reins in the relationship. Further, the older one also knows that the relationship is fleeting; that it was not necessarily meant to last, and thus that they needed to move onto something more stable and reliable, if a little less passionate.
The key differences between the two films are in their tones. While Call Me by Your Name is very subtle and subdued with how it addresses any issues that may arise between the two characters, Blue is the Warmest Color thrives off of its intensity. The relationship between its female protagonists (portrayed magnificently by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos) is ferocious with intimacy and emotion. The end of their relationship begins with a slow separation of their interests and eventually erupts in a heated and intense argument that two are not able to reconcile for some time. Conversely, the relationship between Oliver and Elio ends with a simple phone call in which Oliver reveals that he is engaged. There are no fiery emotions or intense arguments- it ends the same way it began: understated.
Anyone who has seen both films will undoubtedly get a sense of déjà vu when viewing Call Me by Your Name. But the major tonal differences between the two films, as well as the differences between the concluding emotion states of the two younger protagonists gives each film a clear identity and purpose. If you like your homosexual coming of age films with more passion and intensity, go check out Blue is the Warmest Color. If a more realistic and subdued story is your preference, then Call Me by Your Name will satisfy you.