Ryan Murphy, being gay, likes to explore homosexuality and the history of homosexuality in numerous projects of his. Not only has this been shown as a plot device on “Glee,” but it’s also part of the central focus for his HBO directorial effort “The Normal Heart.” This film, in case you didn’t know, focuses on a group of homosexual men in the 1980s who are trying to get government support for the virus AIDS, which nobody wanted to do because it was known back then as a “homo disease.” Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, and Julia Roberts help to make up this film’s impressive cast, but the question still remains: Is “The Normal Heart” any good? In short, yes it is. However, considering the talent both in front and behind the camera, as well as the subject of AIDS being a great thing to cover in movies in general, this could have been a lot better than it was.
Let’s get this right off the bat: the acting in this movie is terrific. Mark Ruffalo gives an emotional and commanding performance here as Ned Weeks, a proudly gay man who uses his overbearing and in-your-face type of presence to do what he thinks is right. Matt Bomer plays his boyfriend Felix Turner, and his performance here is both sweet to watch and hard to watch as well, for his character doesn’t exactly have the whole world on a nice silver platter. Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory” surprised me at how well he can act in drama. Seeing him as this self-centered, obnoxious nerd on his TV show and then see him here shows how capable he is at being a talented actor for the books. Alfred Molina, Taylor Kitsch, and Julia Roberts also give solid performances as Ben Weeks, Dr. Emma Brookner, and Bruce Niles respectively. There really aren’t any bad performances present here, though some are more memorable than others.
Ryan Murphy’s direction is solid, as he manages to capture the effects that AIDS had not only on the bodies of homosexual men, but also in the lives of homosexual men in general. He lets us see past two men in love dealing with the deadly disease, and rather lets us see them as people in love who are trying to fight a common enemy together. Having said that, I felt that there were times when Larry Kramer’s script was trying to overemphasize the gay factor present in the movie. I understand if he’s gay and this is exactly how he portrayed it in his stage version of this story, but there were bits here of gay loving that felt overbearing and a little too “in your face.” Less of that would have made the story more effective and powerful in my eyes.
Overall, “The Normal Heart” is a powerful and moving film that is important to see, especially in this day and age. Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons are among the performances here that truly stand out here. Ryan Murphy’s direction is solid and lets us get invested in the lives of these men. Despite the script feeling a little overbearing at times with its emphasis on homosexual loving, and some performances shining more than others, I still enjoyed the film and wouldn’t mind checking it out again. An HBO film that I felt did a better job at showing the gay lifestyle of a couple is Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind The Candelabra,” which had great performances and told a great story without going too far with its gay-characters, despite some gratuitous scenes present in there. I admire filmmakers exploring the discrimination that gay men faced in the past with movies like this, and I hope one day Hollywood can accept this and maybe put these types of movies onto the big screen rather than on HBO.