Directed by Jean-Marc Valee. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner.
by: Eric J. Grimm
A story as technically fascinating as Ron Woodruff’s deserves extensive exploration through a book or a documentary, not the lame hatchet job it receives in Dallas Buyers Club. The film is loosely based on Woodruff’s experience selling unapproved drugs to combat the effects of HIV/AIDS after he is diagnosed and given thirty days to live. The film’s screenwriters and director take a shopworn homophobe-to-hero approach to the story, which is stupid and manipulative. Luckily, its two male leads are so fully committed to their poorly drawn characters, that it becomes a worthwhile endeavor.
Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s physical transformations to withering AIDS patients would be nothing without their charismatic and varied takes on their characters. McConaughey’s eyes shoot out Woodruff’s tooth and nail determination to survive and are balanced with his trademark Texas drawl. It’s not the best character he’s played since his career resurgence, but he’s practically flawless. I just love watching him. Leto, as transwoman Rayon who becomes Woodruff’s business partner, is equally committed and fun to watch. A scene where he dresses as a man for his father is there to tug at heartstrings and win awards, but he doesn’t need it. He’s magnetic in all of his scenes.
The same can’t be said for Jennifer Garner, who is as much of a talent void as she was a decade ago. Her character is a composite of many of Woodruff’s doctors and serves as an unnecessary love interest. Her struggle to play by the rules and try to save her patients is wholly unconvincing and betrays the script’s terrible dialogue and fabricated plot developments. Her character gets far more screen time than a nameless black woman who plays Woodruff’s longtime secretary. The film’s progressive view of homosexuals puts its one black character in the backseat.
In the end, what has the movie accomplished by straying from facts? It just plays as a formulaic update of Philadelphia with a twist. The symbolic touches that pound its “Dare to Live” message into our eye sockets do the film’s subject and lead actors a disservice. That said, rarely has a terrible movie’s performances made it so worth watching.