Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club ★★★

I must be immune to the McConaughey magic. Most people saw a magnificent transformation, an actor losing himself in a character. What I saw here was an actor with McCounaughey's familiar drawl and McConaughey's familiar half-high act starving himself to look hollow and haunted, to the point that my concern for the actor prevented me from believing in the character. Add to that the over-the-topness of Leto's performance, and it felt like a movie carefully engineered to win two top Oscars. And it probably will.

It's as cartoonish in its Prisoners We Root For / Authorities We Heckle dualism as The Shawshank Redemption. Thus it has the magic combination: it's a surefire crowdpleaser in that it gives us underdogs to support, and it's about an Important Subject, so we feel extra-good to be rooting for the righteous team.* Best Picture nomination guaranteed, along with the promise that you'll look like a snob if you don't sing the film's praises.

Still, having said all of that — I believe that one of art's greatest powers it its ability to invite us into the experiences and sufferings of people unlike ourselves. When that is done well, we become more compassionate, more capable of seeing individuals and loving them, less likely to push people into categories where it's easier to dismiss them. This film — in spite of itself — does some of that. So I guess I'm glad it exists.

*When "Christian Movies" grow up and learn how to seem realistic, this is what they'll be like: Persecuted, societally unpopular characters who have The Answer that the Powers That Be reject will persevere and be proven right and righteous in their sufferings in the end. High fives for the Good Guys, and what's really been accomplished?

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