There isn’t anything inherently bad about Call Me By Your Name. Other than the sizzling chemistry between actors Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, the rest of the ride is just OK. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that — amid the wonderful setting and piano-riddled soundtrack — this film is missing something outside of its two handsome leads.
For starters, this isn’t your grandmother’s romance tale. It would be criminal to categorize Luca Guadagnino‘s Northern Italy cat-and-mouse tale as your “typical summer fling.” This is a story of love and learning about one’s true self. The young, vulnerable Elio (Chalamet) and his confident, sometimes braggadocious counterpart Oliver (Hammer), a professor’s assistant to Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), live together for the summertime. Initially, the two are opposites. Elio is struggling with his sexuality, and the film made sure I knew Elio was attracted to Oliver, who was initially opposite of Elio. The professor’s assistant danced with women in the heat of an Italian night, kissed women and had the impression of a handsome-and-he-knows-it type man.
However, Guadagnino very quickly begins the obvious close-up shots of Oliver’s hand on Elio’s shoulders, lingering glances from Elio towards Oliver and any other small indication that, yeah, Elio doesn’t really mean it when he has sex with Marzia (Esther Garrel), a French girl who lives nearby.
Call Me By Your Name slightly frustrated me in this regard. I didn’t mind the tease, but by the middle of the film this formula starts to run dry. There’s anticipation building, and building, and building until suddenly — nope, still more hints at a mutual attraction between Elio and Oliver. Lines like, “He’s so good-looking, isn’t he?” It’s just a bit forced. It’s possible that Guadagnino aimed to tease the moviegoer until they realize, “Hey, we want Oliver and Elio together, too.” But it wasn’t necessary to make me root for these two.
While Hammer may get lots of recognition come Oscar season, I think Chalamet was the standout performer. Everything about his character captivated me: the raw emotion, intrinsic struggle and ability to swiftly speak multiple languages (he comes from a family that speaks English, Italian, French and even German) astounded me. The 21-year-old actor has the chops and pulled me into the film’s more serene moments, like writing notes to Oliver that he may never see (“Please don’t hate me,” some read). His natural progression from reserved to finally letting go and falling in love with Oliver touched my soul.
Although, everything outside of our lead characters felt like fluff. The supporting cast’s saving grace was Michael Stuhlbarg’s beautiful teaching moment to Elio, but even that lingered a little too long. Still, it had heart and made me care. Annella (Amira Casar) was fine, but never had a real memorable moment. The film glosses over Hammer’s fling with a woman he met earlier in the film, pre-Elio. I get it: the focal point is Elio and Oliver, but Call Me By Your Name would’ve benefited by supporting everything in-between.
Even by watching the trailer, another gripe was the stark difference in age between Hammer and Chalamet. This made for some of the more intimate moments to feel “off.” Hammer looked much older than Chalamet. And when the film plays up moments that are overly sexualized (a certain peach scene), I was distracted by the age difference. Chalamet is 21 years old, but Elio looks like he’s barely 17. Hammer is 31 years old, and Oliver truly looks 31 years old.
Outside the grievances I have, It’s hard to absolutely hate this film. The shots cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom chose are wonderful, taking advantage of natural lighting to give the film an authentic touch. The music fits the feel. The on-screen chemistry is good between Elio and Oliver. Yet, the film left me feeling unaffected as the end credits ran. Call Me By Your Name will get all the buzz come Oscars 2018 — I just wish it gave me more reason to care deeply for a romance I was excited to see unfold.
I was provided an early screening of this film for purposes of this review thanks to Sony Pictures Classic and Allied Integrated Marketing. ❤
Call Me By Your Name is rated R, runs 2 hours and 13 minutes and opens in South Florida theaters on Dec. 22, 2017.