Dallas Buyer's Club

AIDS made pleasant for straight people!
★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2013
Director: 
Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring: 
Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn
The Setup: 
Straight guy buys drugs overseas to medicate AIDS patients.
Discussion: 

I had seen that this was getting mediocre reviews, except for Matthew McConaughey's and Jared Leto's performances, and a friend of mine even told me not to bother with it [I have to get used to New York getting movies about a week or two before Chicago], but still: one needs to get out of the apartment. Especially when one works from home. The performances are indeed excellent, but the movie is aimless and has serious political issues [straight guy saving gays, not a truly sick AIDS patient to be seen] as well as egregious filmmaking issues... but still, I think it could have improved its general reviews by a good 35% if it didn't have such a downright shitty/nonexistent ending.

The first thing we see is a rodeo rider carrying an American flag. This typically means: "This is a quintessentially American story." The director is Canadian, btw. Then we meet McConaughey as Ron Woodruff, screwing two women in a rodeo box. Then we see him collecting bets on a rider, who falls off immediately. Ron runs, trying to escape paying, but a bunch of guys are after him, but his brother, Steve Zahn as a cop, saves him by punching him out and arresting him. He's a wild, crazy, rock-n-roll cowboy, this Ron Woodruff! He goes home and falls unconscious. A few days later, there's been an accident on the... you know... construction thing, and Ron gets an electric jolt that sends him into the hospital. There, he finds out that he has AIDS and has 30 days to live. He also threatens to beat up the doctor for so much as asking if he has had sex with a man. He's a homophobic bastard, too!

Already the movie has made one massive rookie mistake that no movie should make, which is have two completely unrelated characters that look exactly alike. And I do mean EXACTLY alike. Strawberry blonde guys with mustaches? Are those common? One is a former friend of Ron's, and one is Steve Zahn as his brother. It doesn't create confusion, but it's just... can't they be more careful? Small consolation is that you get to see sweetie Steve Zahn again, and with a mustache, AND in a police uniform. Unfortunately, he has virtually nothing to do in the movie.

Anyway, Ron goes to the library and reads about AIDS, remembers having sex with a woman with track marks on her arm, and realizes he really has it. He tells one of his friends, and he tells two friends, and he tells two friends, and so on, and so on, until Ron goes into the roadhouse and his friend make jokes that he's queer and don't want him to touch them. I guess they weren't his real friends. He goes to the hospital and asks for AZT, but it's on trial and half of patients will get a placebo. Soon he gets it on the sly from an orderly, but one day passes out outside the hospital. When he wakes, he is in the same room as Jared Leto as drag queen Rayon.

Ron ends up going to Mexico, where he stays three months in a hospital [WHERE is he getting all this money?] and the doctor there gives him a bunch of herbs and supplements that help him manage his symptoms. He comes back with a car full of drugs, and is stopped by the DEA, but he tells them the pills are all for him. Soon he goes into business selling the drugs, soon asks Rayon to be his partner, which serves as his crucial entry to the gay community. Business booms. Eventually he has to move out of his place and operates out of a motel room, which soon constantly has a long line of [fresh-faced, healthy-looking] AIDS victims lined up outside.

Notable scenes include when he forces the homophobe who looks exactly like Steve Zahn to shake Rayon's hand, and Rayon gives him a look of gratitude like "You are the most angelic straight man and savior of the gay community!" His business keeps getting bigger. We hear of "buyer's clubs" in other cities, but never more than that they exist. Jennifer Garner is on hand [and quite charming] but ultimately really has nothing to do here except be "the female." Jared Leto is quite good and has a great piece of acting as he goes to visit his homophobic father. But after a while you start to think "This is getting long." And then--

It just ENDS. Literally as if it had a mandated two-hour running time, we're suddenly in a court, a judge gives a short speech, and the screen goes blank with a title: "The trial was decided in Woodruff's favor..." and you're like "Oh? There was a trial? Because this is the first I've heard of that." There are a few more titles, and that's IT. Now, he movie has a ton of problems, but it IS watchable, and the performances are good, and you're not hating it [that comes later], but this could have raised its reviews from mediocre-poor to mediocre-pretty-good if it just didn't have this egregiously insulting ending. I'm always fascinated when movies just shoot themselves in the foot like this.

Then, the next day, after a bit of reflection, all of the numerous problems become apparent. First, there's the political problems: this is all about a straight guy stepping and in saving gay people, akin to movies in which white people come in and save those of other races. This, for me, is not so much a problem in itself--hey, that's the story, after all--but it becomes egregious when you have Rayon gazing at him in awe for overcoming his homophobia, a late scene in which a gay couple donate a house so he can continue doing God's work, and mostly for the notable absence of information about the OTHER buyer's clubs, which can only bring up the question "Why don't we have a movie about THEM?" Secondly, there is the notable absence of anyone really sick, which one presumes might be because seeing them would be a real downer. I didn't see it, but this film is often mentioned in the same breath as How To Survive A Plague, about the forming of ACT UP, which was going on at the same time--and which we hear NOTHING about--which is filled with truly sick, emaciated, sore-covered people in wheelchairs, which represents the reality of what was going on at the time. So to NOT show that, and only show quite healthy-looking people with maybe a few mild sores and dark circles around their eyes in a real whitewash and absolute distortion of the truth. Essentially this movie is made for straight people--which I am okay with--but to be blatantly dishonest and rewrite history to make AIDS safe [if not verging on pleasant] for straight people is really not okay.

But if you don't hate it for being socially reprehensible, you can hate it just for being a shittily-made movie. As I said, it goes down smooth--although it does start to get a bit long, and there's that non-ending--but the next day all the many problems come crashing in. So, the DEA is onto Ron from his very first trip--and yet he continues to travel unhindered? He has a long line of people outside his motel room and the police never notice that? And it never becomes a problem for the motel's business? What is the purpose of Jennifer Garner's character? What is the purpose of Steve Zahn's character? What is the general purpose of this movie? It has no arc, it has nothing more than a plot... it tells a story, poorly, then it ends. It's such a mess I have to believe that there was some sort of filmmaking snafu that requires re-editing without money for re-shoots, and it's difficult to believe that anyone who has ever taken a screenwriting course [or graduated from high school] would come up with this script as filmed.

So not to say the performances aren't great--they are--but they are also the ONLY reason to see this. The rest of it is just a piece of garbage that only gets worse the more you look at it. And by the way, the hastag "#DateToLive" that's appearing in all the ads for this makes me want to fucking puke.

Should you watch it: 

Wait for video, if you have to see it at all.