THE celebrated Call Me by Your Name is a seductive slow burn of a movie set one lovely summer somewhere in northern Italy, depicting in quiet, languorous fashion the blossoming of love between a precocious 17-year-old and a gorgeous interloper, a Jewish-American graduate student.
From its Sundance premiere in January 2017, Call Me by Your Name quickly became a festival-circuit darling and expectedly earned a spot in this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Film.
One of the movie’s chief assets is 22-year-old breakout star Timothée Chalamet whose raw, open and sincere portrayal of Elio, the teenager who starts a dance of flirtation with Armie Hammer as Oliver, arguably the hottest thing in short shorts this film season, provides the film’s delicate core.
Chalamet is a Manhattan native and comes from a performing family. With his overnight ascent, the young actor did not only earn his first Oscar Best Actor nomination but a stream of adulation and respect from critics and audiences. Suddenly, people are curious about his journey, the nitty-gritty of his life, and where the path will be taking him from this, his one special moment in time.
Those who have seen the film, now playing exclusively in Ayala Malls cinemas, are endlessly talking about the scene involving a “peach”; Elio’s father’s monologue near the film’s end; and the wordless five-minute scene where Elio cries while staring at the fireplace after a surprise call from the man whom he calls by his name.
In many ways, the depth of the film’s love story depends heavily on Chalamet’s ability to convey an unpredictable stream of young emotions—restlessness, lust, sensitivity, gloom—as his relationship with Hammer grows and eventually explodes.
Chalamet, by the way, is straight and proves once again that there’s more novelty, boldness and complexity involved when someone straight is playing a gay character, as opposed to gay men taking on gay roles.
His overnight renown reminds showbiz observers of similar breakthroughs by some of Philippine entertainment’s finest male acting talents. It also recalls other straight Hollywood male stars who gained more respect as actors after playing gay on film. Like Chalamet, Sid Lucero is blessed with an incredibly expressive face that can transmit complex feelings in a nonverbal way. Lucero has always been acknowledged as a gifted, sensitive performer. When he played a gay professor who also runs a lodge in Adolfo Alix’s Muli, he left critics and viewers in awe of his sensitivity and ability to make even the simple scene of searching for his lover in the big city heartbreaking. He won a well-deserved Urian Best Actor award for his portrayal.
Lucero’s father, the late great actor Mark Gil, also won an Urian for Best Supporting Actor for an alternately poignant and delicious performance as a tormented gay artist in Lino Brocka’s Palipat-lipat, Papalit-palit.
Gil would go on to build an impressive body of work until he passed on a few years ago.
Chalamet started out as a child actor, having appeared as Matthew McConaughey’s son in Interstellar. His child-star origins is similar to River Phoenix’s start in movies, like The Mosquito Coast and, of course, Stand By Me. Always rather seemingly reclusive but talented, Phoenix appeared opposite heartthrob Keanu Reeves in the memorable coming-of-age film My Own Private Idaho about two young gay runaways. Phoenix died two years after his brave turn in the movie.
Like Phoenix, Heath Ledger’s life was also cut short when they both clearly had more to offer as actors.
Chalamet’s extraordinary turn in his breakthrough film approximates the subtlety of Ledger’s tortured cowboy in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain.
Four Hollywood actors would boost their stock after playing gay in their respective movies. Tom Hanks won his first Oscar as a lawyer who was fired for having HIV in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. British actor Colin Firth brought so much elegance to grief in A Single Man (2009), for which clinched an Oscar Best Actor nomination. The impeccable Philip Seymour Hoffman nailed the part of the eccentric Truman Capote in Capote (2005) and was rewarded with an Oscar. Sean Penn won the Best Actor Oscar for 2008’s Milk, expertly portraying the title character, the first openly gay politician to be elected in California.
What is it about going gay on celluloid that attracts straight actors? It could be because when one plays it right, it could pave the way to earning more accolades and counting years in the business.
“When you get to act in things as good as Call Me by Your Name,” Chalamet said in an interview, “you’ve got a huge responsibility to do them truthfully. So that young people watching can say, ‘I see myself on that screen!’”