The Normal Heart-2014
Starring-Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer
Reviewed December 1, 2014
The Normal Heart is a 2014 HBO television movie based on the true story of Ned Weeks, an openly gay AIDS activist/writer, played by Mark Ruffalo. The film is set during the period when the epidemic first surfaced, from 1981-1984, and the challenges and frustrations faced, mostly within the gay community, to bring exposure and assistance to the disease. Weeks was famous for establishing a group of passionate members who banded together to attempt to hurdle these struggles. The film was produced by Brad Pitt- wonderful to know as films with this content (AIDS) are often tough to produce- nice that Pitt’s wealth and influenced was used effectively. Certainly a vastly different time in the country to be gay, the government did very little to assist with financing funding for treatment or researching a cure for it, which is the main point of the story.
The talented cast makes this film what it is. Matt Bomer plays Ned’s closeted gay lover, Felix Turner, one of the many casualties of the deadly disease. Bomer lost 40 pounds in preparation for the role. Julia Roberts plays polio stricken doctor, Emma Brookner, who was instrumental in helping the sick when few others within the medical community wanted to. Other actors providing support are Alfred Molina, who plays Ned’s supportive, and powerful, attorney and brother, and Joe Mantello, who has a terrific meltdown scene as his anger and anguish over the disease not being taken seriously by the government finally bubble to the surface. Finally, Mark Ruffalo plays Ned competently, but why the slight feminization of the character? The real Ned Weeks was masculine. A needless stereotype the film (or Ruffalo) chose to pursue.
The film shows the discrimination faced by the AIDS victims- from an airline pilot refusing to fly a plane carrying a sick patient, to an electrician refusing to enter a sick patient’s hospital room to fix a television set- sad when one realizes how ridiculous these unfounded fears proved to be. According to the film’s statistics, and a major point of the film, is how the United States Government, specifically President Reagan, did very little in the way of funding or even wanting to discuss the issue for years following the initial outbreak, resulting in thousands of lost lives. And why exactly is Reagan considered a great President? It makes one ponder. It was only due to beloved Hollywood star Rock Hudson acquiring and dying from the disease and Elizabeth Taylor using her star power to get people involved that finally led to the topic being discussed and action taken on a federal level.
My one slight criticism of the film is that it looks and feels like a television movie similar in texture to Behind the Candelabra, another HBO film. The colors are bright and vivid and it looks television-like and could have used darker lighting and perhaps a gloomier more dower feel, especially given the subject matter involved in the story. Otherwise, thumbs up and respect for bringing this story to millions of viewers and hopefully educating the many who were not there at the time.