Another New Year, another deluge of Oscar Bait. Some things never change, and for movie aficionados like myself the sudden awards season overflow of “must-see” movies is only slightly preferable to a full-on drought (coming this February…). Going to the theater is starting to feel like an obligation, especially with a serious lack of enjoyable trash to balance out all the prestige pictures. But the upside is that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a few real winners, perhaps none better than Call Me by Your Name.
Our story takes place over the summer of 1983 in sun-drenched Italy. Staying with his family at their lavish country villa is 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a smart and curious boy who lazes the days away playing the piano and hanging out with his friends. Joining the Perlmans for the season is Oliver (Armie Hammer), a twentysomething intern for Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Elio finds himself instantly drawn to the cocky and aloof Oliver, and over the course of the summer a relationship slowly blossoms.
The story Call Me by Your Name tells is not a new one. At its heart it’s a fairly straightforward summer romance, a plot that predates cinema itself. But there’s a reason this subgenre has endured: the clash between intensity of young love and its inevitable impermanence can make for sublime drama, and Call Me by Your Name accomplishes this beautifully, avoiding a single false note in its portrait of Elio and Oliver’s relationship.
The movie’s tone is an appealing mix of real and unreal; while the events of the plot are entirely believable, the Italian setting – a character in its own right – is impossibly idyllic, gorgeously rendered by the warm yellows and greens of its 35-millimeter cinematography. As for the soundtrack, it’s composed almost entirely of classical piano, with the exception of one wondrously deployed new wave classic. The entire movie – save, perhaps, for the final scene – is ethereal and dreamlike, perfectly capturing the feeling of being 17, free, and in love.
Call Me by Your Name nothing if not unforced. Every aspect of the movie is crafted with a masterfully light touch, from the languid pace to the unobtrusive period details to the quietly sensual performances from its two leads. It never over-telegraphs its emotional beats, instead allowing them to speak for themselves. The dialogue is breezy but intelligent, with a gut-punch monologue in the third act that neatly sums up the story’s bittersweet spirit. It’s a manipulative movie only in the sense that all good movies are, and it’s one to which you’ll be all too happy to surrender your control.