Sunday, November 17, 2013
How DALLAS BUYERS CLUB Rebirthed the Jared Leto-Saince
As some continue to bask in the glory of McConaisance (what has become known as Matthew McConaughey's impressive career comeback), I'm taking the beginning of this post to declare the Letosaince. It's not as cool-sounding as McConaisance, but it's just as--if not more--significant.
I'm referring to Jared Leto, the forever brooding, bad boy-type, whose steady climb up the respectful Hollywood ladder has gone largely unnoticed. He went from playing angsty teen Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life in the mid-90s to a pretty boy gladiator in Fight Club and later a desperate drug addict in Requiem for a Dream. Unlike Johnny Depp, who actively sought to break out the heartthrob box (and, to some extent, succeeded), Leto made this superficial crutch work for him. He has spent his two-decade acting career applying gravitas to even his most misunderstood characters that often used their internal agony to mask their vulnerability. This is best expressed in his latest--and most ambitious role--in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.
From the moment he appears in the independent drama (now in select theaters), Leto is completely invisible. It's not because he's unnoticeable (far from it); he's disappeared so deeply into the role of Rayon, a transgender woman dying of AIDS, that you don't see the actor at all. In a performance that's less about his flawlessly applied lipstick, skeletal figure and perfectly soft pitched voice than it is about depicting the heart of a person struggling to live in the face of dying, Leto is simply magnetic to watch.
The real-life story, however, centers on Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a hard-partying Dallas playboy and electrician who enjoys mixing casual sex and cocaine on a typical weekday night. His fun-loving life reaches a boiling point in 1986 when he's diagnosed as HIV+ after a hospital visit due to a work-related injury. A raging homophobe, he at first rejects his diagnosis and lashes out against his doctors. After coming to terms with his status, he soon learns that he cannot pay for AZT, the drug needed to keep him alive. He begins to investigate alternative medications on his own until he stumbles onto a black market of drugs for HIV patients and decides to launch a business he names the Dallas Buyers Club. But his repellent personality isn't cajoling any customers. So he has to seek assistance from Rayon, who he meets in the hospital and by example teaches him how to better approach those most in need. With their conflicting personalities, the two get off to a rocky start at first, but later become unlikely friends and business partners.
While the nuance McConaughey brings to the character is extraordinary, and continues to show off the actor's remarkable range, it is Leto who anchors the film and gives it the soul it would have otherwise lacked. But the two actors complement each other in more ways than one--Leto brings tenderness and genuine emotion to the film, while McConaughey's restrained yet subtly affective portrayal offers another sense of accessibility. Despite Rayon and Ron fighting similar battles with antithetical points of view, they both embody comparable mental anguish and sheer desolation as they continue to fight their parallel adversities--Rayon's dependence on drugs and estranged relationship with her father, and Ron's complicated association with the FDA and his own self-acceptance. The greatest thing about the film as a whole is that it doesn't simply convey the unflinching despondency that too often is felt when a film that gives its lead character a death sentence within the first 30 minutes; it's spirited, heartrending and thoughtful, providing a more human story punctuated by its companion performances.
Though Jean-Marc Vallée's direction is sometimes indistinct, it does allow the actors to come off more inhibited in their performances and each scene is that much more authentic. With relative newbie screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack on deck, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is fresh, compassionate and gut-wrenching all at once. Plus, it has given us the Letosaince. What more could you ask from a film?
Rating: A (**** out of *****)