With Dallas Buyers Club, director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria) takes the cinematic liberty to tell Woodroof’s story, revisiting the 1980s during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when rampant conservatism, Reagan’s War on Drugs and the Christian right dominated American culture.
In what appears to be the role of his career, an overwhelmingly skeletal Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike) portrays Vallée’s interpretation of Woodroof, a bigoted, substance-abusing electrician from rural Texas. Subsequent to a night of hard partying and screwing prostitutes, the once-invincible Ron finds himself in the hospital, suffering from dizziness, bloody coughs and severe headaches. There, he tests positive for HIV and discovers he has a projected 30-day life span. Through a crude episode of homophobic epithets, Ron interprets the diagnosis as an assault on his identity rather than a grim health related reality.
Ron attempts to continue life as normal but quickly succumbs to HIV’s symptoms, which are exacerbated with his steady cocaine and alcohol intake. Ron’s entire town takes notice, and he is stigmatized with the kind of people he abhors (fears) most.
Pursuing treatment back in the local hospital, Ron meets Rayon (Jared Leto, Mr. Nobody), an HIV-positive, transsexual junkie. Much to Ron’s dismay, Rayon flirtatiously instigates a game of cards, revealing that she is a part of a trial for HIV drug AZT. Already rejected from participating in the trial, Ron needs Rayon’s street smarts and connections in the quest for HIV medication. From this encounter, the two begin a mutually life-altering relationship, marking the beginning of Ron’s transformation from self-interested hustler to medical activist.
Vallée, along with screenwriters Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten, emphasizes the distinctive parallels between the “lifestyles” of homophobic rural Texas and lower-class LGBT youth through Ron and Rayon — both have very similar goals and use equally unorthodox methods to obtain what they need.
The results of deeply ingrained homophobia extend far beyond the LGBT population. Framed as the rigid bullies of the film, the FDA largely prevents adequate AIDS research and access to healthcare, which the film attributes to public perceptions of HIV/AIDS victims, a factor only secondary to the actual profit potential of distributing ineffective drugs to patients seeking treatment.
Dallas Buyers Club, which opens Friday at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial, factually represents Woodroof’s determined advocacy on behalf of a marginalized population, presenting HIV/AIDS as a true social equalizer. Woodroof extends a 30-day life expectancy to over 6 years of advocacy and progress, but not without Rayon or the LGBT community’s support.
While the film itself isn’t the most remarkable among this fall’s cinematic lineup, McConaughy and Leto’s Oscar-worthy performances, both poignant and gritty just as they are comical, make Dallas Buyers Club an unparalleled viewing experience. Above all, it encapsulates America’s ongoing battles with both the virus epidemic and the results of institutionalized prejudice and intolerance.
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