So after months of postponing, I finally got the movie, The Normal Heart, and settled down to watch it. The Normal Heart is a TV movie that aired on HBO more than a year ago. I had seen trailers and read countless reviews, but nothing really prepares you for how this movie will leave you feeling. The Normal Heart is directed by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, Scream Queens) and features an ensemble cast of Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, Jonathan Groff, Alfred Molina and Joe Mantello. It is based on the stage play of the same name by Larry Kramer. It’s about the HIV/AIDS epidemic amongst gay people in New York in the 1980s.
We see the events of the movie largely through the eyes of the writer and activist Ned Weeks (played by Mark Ruffalo). The movie opens with a party on Fire Island, and this is as light-hearted as the movie ever gets. We get a sense of community from this opening scene and it’s wonderful.
Things quickly begin to get serious and intense from there as the ‘Gay Cancer’ starts building momentum and Ned’s friends from that lively party on Fire Island start dying. First off is Jonathan Groff’s character, who seemed to be in good health until he wasn’t. Something was killing the gay men in the city and they had no idea what it was.
Ned Weeks meets with Dr Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts), a polio survivor who is wheelchair-bound; what she does know about the disease is that it’s most likely sexually transmitted and only seems to affect gay men, and so she asks him to help her raise awareness for this disease that seems to be affecting the immune system of gay men, thus leaving them susceptible to diseases that their immune system should normally be fighting off. They organize a meeting in which she tries to get the gay community into a program of abstinence. The gay men weren’t having it, as it meant going backwards and meant their long and hard fight for sexual freedom would have been for naught.
Weeks does what he can; he helps form the Gay Men’s Health Crisis center. They never seem to get the progress they want though, as his methods and idea for awareness doesn’t sit well with most of the other members, who want their privacy. Weeks’ perspective is that this is an epidemic, which the government and potential victims should do everything they can do to stop.
This causes a lot of friction and no doubt hampers their goals for more awareness and thus more funding for their organization, and also funding for research into the epidemic.
The Normal Heart is grounded by the love story at the center of it all – the budding romance between Ned Weeks and Matt Bomer’s Felix Turner. It’s beautifully written and well portrayed by both Bomer and Ruffalo. Felix’s fate when he later gets infected and slowly deteriorates is heartbreaking and honestly disturbing to watch. This is largely due to the large amount of weight Matt Bomer dropped to effectively portray Felix’s declining health. Felix’s situation is no doubt responsible for what spurs Ned’s crusade even more so than before, to get the word out there.
Their relationship and struggles as they deal with Felix’s health, not knowing if kissing each other will infect the other, is wonderfully if hauntingly depicted. I am always deeply appreciative when an actor completely immerses himself into a role, and these two actors did just that. The result was something beautiful.
The supporting players, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, Alfred Molina, all hold their own. I was particularly surprised by Parsons, who is popularly known for playing Sheldon Cooper on the TV sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. I had always seen him as a comedic actor, and to my delight, he was the MVP of the movie here. This is epitomized in a scene where he gives a eulogy at a friend’s funeral, and as Parsons’ character broke down, my heart broke.
The Normal Heart is angry and furious, and isn’t apologetic about this. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Julia Roberts’ Dr Emma Brookner is giving a presentation about the disease and her research about it; she needs funding and is being denied, and it is absolutely brilliant how she gives them a piece of her mind.
The Normal Heart is littered with incredible performances, a great screenplay capped with wonderful direction. It’s in-your-face with the ugly truths, about how history turned a blind eye to the epidemic. It makes for a hard and sometimes uncomfortable viewing, but it’s a necessary one, as it educates on how the LGBT community started. It tells us to appreciate how far we’ve come and shines a wonderful light into how great the future can be.
Rating: 9/10 – One of the best total cast performances I have ever seen, each actor was incredible, some more surprising than others, Kitsch and Parsons in particular. What Murphy and Co have created here is a wonderful and necessary movie that’s going to be timeless.
Written by Deola