But How Gay is ‘Call Me By Your Name’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Call Me By Your Name?
First of all, congratulations for getting out from under that rock you were clearly under for the past year. We’re all still here! Donald Trump hasn’t been impeached yet! A Latinx Justin Bieber song was the Song of Summer! It’s wild here in 2017.

Anyway, Call Me By Your Name is I Am Love director Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of Andre Acíman’s 2007 novel of the same name. It follows Elio, an Italian-American teen, as he comes to terms with his feelings for a visiting American scholar named Oliver. In a year filled with gay and queer films (Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Battle of the Sexes, Beach Rats, God’s Own Country, and so on), Call Me By Your Name is the biggest and most anticipated.

How is it so big if it’s just coming out now?
Well, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. And it has played at several other fests since. But most significantly, the film has been screening for press and gay influencers for months. Basically, a ton of gay men in New York and Los Angeles have seen and tweeted about it by now. Mistakenly thinking the movie’s been out for a while is an understandable misconception.

Who’s in it?
Boy, that rock was really comfortable, huh? You probably still think of Armie Hammer as that guy from The Lone Ranger and The Social Network. It’s my duty to tell you that he’s in this movie as Oliver, and thanks to an aggressive press campaign, he’s now a major star and object of thirst. You also likely aren’t aware of Timothée Chalamet, who plays Elio. He’s previously starred mostly in independent movies like Miss Stevens, which he’s terrific in. (Watch it on Netflix!) He’s wonderful in the film, and also once rapped about statistics.

Am I wrong, or does the press tour sound kind of extra? It has been incredibly extra, yes! But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing the movie, which is really a marvelous bit of cinema.

But how gay is it?
And here we come to the question of the hour. There’s been a ton of back and forth about Call Me By Your Name, largely over how it treats the sex in the film. Detractors say it’s shy about nudity and sexuality in a way that insults the source material (which was incredibly sexual). Defenders say it’s plenty sexy, and a movie doesn’t need to have a scene of explicit sex to be properly gay.

Here’s my take: Call Me By Your Name is gay, but it would’ve felt gayer even a couple of years ago.

No matter how many times I reconsider the crucial sex scene, in which Guadagnino pans away from a sex scene just as it begins to look out a window, I can’t reconcile it with an otherwise deeply sexy movie. It feels like a compromise, not a strong directorial choice. I’ve listened to those who defend the choice, and I think there are good readings of it (Jason Adams of My New Plaid Pants, a vocal supporter of the film, has a great one). But I can’t escape what I felt both the first and second times I saw the scene: This is a scene out of a less courageous film.

Add to that the fact that Chalamet and Hammer are both straight-identifying actors though both give delightful performances, as do Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar as Elio’s parents and you start to get what I’m trying to say. Had it come out a few years ago, Call Me By Your Name would be revolutionary. But in the past few cinematic seasons, there’s been a lengthy reconsideration of whether straight actors should be playing gay characters. Guadagnino was even asked about it, and his answer emphasized the film’s “universal” story.

But that’s the thing: Call Me By Your Name is not a universal story. It’s a remarkably specific one, with some relatable elements. It is specific the way Carol and Moonlight were specific, too. The way we talk about, cast, film, and critique gay movies has to change. Call Me By Your Name is a wonderful film, but I hesitate to call it a very gay one.

Is the peach scene in there? Oh, so you did hear a few things under that rock! Yes, the peach scene is in there, and it like many moments in the film is breathtaking in its intimacy.

Will Call Me By Your Name win Best Picture at the Oscars? There’s a longer explanation for this, but frankly, it’s easier to just set realistic expectations and say no. That’s OK, though! Like Carol, this is a gorgeous film with a ton going for it. It doesn’t need the Oscars’ rubber stamp to instantly enter the canon of great cinema.

Is there anything else I should know about it? Sufjan Stevens did a few songs for it, and they are wonderful.

Call Me By Your Name is in New York and Los Angeles theaters now.


 

Kevin O'KeeffeKevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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