Call Me By Your Name is that annual run-away critical darling that far too many are quick to call a modern “masterpiece” that has good odds to bore most general audiences to tears. Clocking in at 132 minutes, the film from Italian Luca Guadagnino is long-winded indeed, emphasizing its European cinematic roots by having its characters spend a good chunk of their screen time staring into the distance, ruminating internally, sighing deeply and smoking cigarettes. After all, what’s more European than smoking cigarettes and staring off into the great beyond?
It’s 1983 and 17-year old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spends his time reading and making eyes at his father’s new intern Oliver (Armie Hammer). Elio and Oliver are both homosexuals, each waging their own emotional battles in a time and place where being gay wasn’t as widely accepted as it is today. But the world that Oliver and Elio occupy is largely one of acceptance, a paradise of understanding and natural beauty. Guadagnino does a fine job teasing the playfulness and genuine tenderness in their emerging feelings for one another and both Chalamet and Hammer sell the soul-bearing exchanges in revealing, earnest manner.
Oliver is 24, muscular, an adult in mind and body. Meanwhile, Elio remains very much a child. From his skinny frame to his insecurities with his budding sexuality and his utter dependence on his parents, Elio is jejune. The Lady Bird to Hammer’s bulking Lone Ranger. Seeing the two tease and lust for one another incited primal red flags for me, though it’s worth noting I was lectured by some CMBYN fan’s about the age of consent in 1983 Italy, thereby rendering any discussion about the age difference moot. 🤷🏻♂️
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel emotionally throttled by the massive physical differences between this boy and this man, an element that evidently is supposed to be overlooked by audiences as no mention is made of it throughout the duration of the film. It’s not a huge hangup I have so much as something I noted and fully expected to be addressed. Alas, that day never came.
More than anything Guadagnino’s feature is a bit of a beautiful slog hung on touching, sometimes beautiful performances and stunning, always beautiful scenery. Did I emphasis just how beautiful so much of this film is? The cinematography from Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is luscious, drowning in natural light and calling to mind the breezy sloth of a perfect summer day. The script from James Ivory, basing his work off the André Aciman’s novel of the same name, really takes its sweet time, often losing me amongst its sumptuous tapestries of Italian countrysides.
In many ways, Call Me By Your Name is like a living postcard. With so little going on, it’s a perfectly GIF-able movie with stunning vistas and not too much in the way of plot motion to obstruct the view. The performances are astounding, no doubt – Chalamet makes for a lead debut that will not soon be forgotten, Hammer exposes himself in a raw but confident turn and Michael Stuhlbarg gives a quiet speech about acceptance and love that might just win him into the Oscar contender circle – but it’s a really, really slow burn that lacked the payoff such a simmering slog to the finish line demands.
Outside of an unforgettable sexual moment shared with a peach, there wasn’t a ton in Call Me By Your Name that really stuck to my ribs and with its towering runtime, I don’t see it as something I will be rushing back to revisit. That being the case, though there is much to admire about Guadagnino’s heartfelt summer fling, it just wasn’t “the one” for me. I just wish I were more enamored by the whole enterprise because, as is, count me amongst those decidedly not head over heels.
CONCLUSION: ‘Call Be My Your Name’ is a picturesque portrait of irresistible romance led by emotionally naked performances from Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Gorgeous to look at but with a barebones plot that struggles to keep things chipping along and some questionable statutory dilemmas, I found myself hovering on the edge of attention when I should have been diving in head first.