The Normal Heart
Directed by: Ryan Murphy (Running with Scissors, Glee)
Written by: Larry Kramer
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, and Julia Roberts
Larry Kramer wrote the play The Normal Heart, which premiered off-Broadway in 1985, and was revived in 2011. The 2011 play was a huge success at the Tony Awards, winning Best Revival of Play. Kramer wrote this largely autobiographical play about his own experiences about the HIV-AIDS crisis between 1981 and 1983.
The Normal Heart centers around Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), a Jewish-American gay rights activist. While away with his group of friends at Fire Island one of the young men played by Jonathan Groff starts to feel sick. After Craig (Groff) starts to show signs of what is referred to as "gay cancer" Ned an activist himself starts to see this disease is becoming a problem with other gay men.
Ned ends up up going to the Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts) who urges Ned that the only way he can escape the disease is to never have any sexual contact with a man. Ned and brings Emma to his friends, encouraging them to take up the cause and fight to help gay men who are starting to die quicker and quicker because of this disease.
Ned represents real life activist Larry Kramer, and Ruffalo does a brilliant job as the obnoxious loud mouth who is not afraid to slam open the closet door, and shine a light on political aspects of the problems going on within the gay community. While Ned pushes through the red tape, he attempts to find Felix Turner (Matt Bomer) at the New York Times who could be an ally, and fight for their cause in the press. The problem is that Felix just does not have the desire to be an activist like most of Ned's friends. In order to help fight the cause Ned does get to open the Gay Men's Health Alliance with Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch), Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons), and Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello).
Larry Kramer obviously had to take the script for the stage, and work with director Ryan Murphy to expand the concept of the play. While I never did get to see the play, the film's expansion into this television movie work on many levels. Kramers expands the exploration and beginning of what the world of Fire Island looks and feels like, and while plays have speeches, which can have a harder time translating to film, Kramer along with Murphy's direction makes each moment feel genuine, and heartfelt.
At the center of this film is heart, for Kramer this is obviously personal; he has translated this story to the stage, and now to film. Kramer does a great job getting you to connect with each and every one of these people, their stories, backgrounds help define these characters into deep levels. As stated above Kramer is Ned, and while most people might find a real life Ned obnoxious, Ruffalo plays this character to perfection. With every outburst, or tear you feel connected to Ned, and Ruffalo never lets you lose hope in him, and the fight he has assumed.
While I am giving a lot of credit to the creative genius behind this story Larry Kramer, which he deserves, Ryan Murphy's direction makes this story sing, no pun intended Glee fans. Over the years Murphy's direction in television and film have grown, and this is easily his best work. The proof is in the strength of every performance on screen. Murphy gives you heartbreak, tears, love, and even some moments of joy and giggle or two. You have to admire his direction within this film, and the life he gives to this film version of the play. Murphy direction along with cinematographer Daniel Moder (yes Julia Robert's husband) give the perfect lens to make every moment feel as though you are in the early 1980s.
Without the great direction, and source material this film would of course be a shell, but the performances also help make this material just as strong. My personal favorite performance outside of Ruffalo was Matt Bomer who I fell for on Guding Light in looks and acting ability. Bomer's Felix is the heart behind Ned, and their story is beautiful. You will not be able to watch their love story without a tear or several falling from your face. Julia Roberts is also amazing as Emma; she is hard as stone, but eventually loses it as she rallies to get people to pay attention to finding a cure or researching this disease. Kitsch, and Parsons are also impressive they add depth and heart to this story. Kitsch is closeted, but has love and wants to fight hard for this cause. Parsons is love able, and scarred, you see it in his eyes.
At the end of the day, The Normal Heart is about fighting against the machine, rallying to a cause, but more so about love. Kramer's tale is about understanding that love is the same for everyone, and no group should be forced into extinction because they love someone of the same sex. You can see this with the way Ned connects with his brother, his friends, and Felix. The Normal Heart also shows the way the system treated gay men because of this disease, there is something dark in a system which forces people into fearing coming out of the closet, or prevents them from standing up for them self. Yet each interaction, each moment makes you understand the depth of love, and of course the heart.