Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a valuable but flawed movie

Hollywood seems to be afraid to tell a story that didn’t come from a comic book or that can’t have “based on a true story” slapped on its poster. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though, if it’s a story we need to hear and one that we otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to.

If Ron Woodroof had his way, the story of his life would have looked a lot like the first scene of “Dallas Buyers Club”—a threesome just on the safe side of the fence at a rodeo. A Dallas electrician, Woodroof lives like there is no tomorrow: alcohol, sexual (over)activity and occasional cocaine use go along with his bull riding. Following a workplace accident, he wakes up in the hospital, learns he has AIDS and is given a month to live.

Played by Matthew McConaughey, Woodroof is rail-thin, at first a hard, rangy man, but after his diagnosis, he just looks skeletal. McConaughey has been on an incredible roll the last couple years, and this may be the peak. He shows just how literal the fight for his life is. His breakdown on the way to Mexico as he contemplates suicide is heartbreaking. His resolve returns, and he decides to do whatever he can to survive, which he does with entrepreneurial spirit. In the mid-’80s, there were few drugs to treat AIDS on the market in the U.S., but other drugs, not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, were often available in other countries. Woodroof becomes an international businessman, bringing drugs to the U.S. for himself and the members of his “club,” giving the movie its title.

Jennifer Garner plays his concerned but in-over-her-head doctor (which has more to do with the nature of AIDS at that time than her failings as a doctor), but the other star is Jared Leto as the transsexual woman, Rayon, who becomes Woodroof’s business partner and friend. Woodroof feels the stigma of the disease from his former friends, but that pales in comparison with what Rayon goes through, highlighted in one scene where she must dress in a suit to see her father.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (“The Young Victoria”), who allows the actors free range but egregiously overuses a high-pitched buzzing noise to indicate that Woodroof is about to black out.

The joy that Woodroof and Rayon find in life seems much more of our time than theirs. Today, a diagnosis with AIDS is not the death sentence it was then (granted, you have access to medical care), but the reminder is, even when we’re dying, there is something to live for. This may seem trite, but it is the message given by the movie as the once incorrigible Woodroof learns to care about others and sets himself on the straight road. Without that “based on a true story” and the somber white text on a black screen at the end, this movie would seem too good to be true, and even so, the cliches come thick. The outstanding acting by McConaughey and Leto is central to the power of the movie. It took a “true story” of a straight man for us to get another movie about the AIDS epidemic, and that is a problem. For a supposedly liberal industry, Hollywood is prone to patting itself on the back for small victories, if they can even be called that. For a disease that hits the gay population of this country the hardest, making this movie glossed over the most affected population.

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  • KFF says:

    Your “flaw” is a vague suspicion at best, but you raise it to the level of a thesis. I don’t necessarily disagree, but the oh-so-pale ghost of social injustice present here barely merits discussion in any forum let alone as a point of criticism for the movie.

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878