Thursday, 1 February 2018

Best Actor 2017: Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Timothée Chalamet received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Elio Perlman in Call Me By Your Name.

Call Me By Your Name focuses on the romantic affair between a teenager and the graduate student who comes to stay with family in Italy during one long summer.

If there is one name that seemed to take the film awards space by storm in 2017 it was Timothée Chalamet, this was not always in the most healthy fashion though with a seeming legion of fans appearing long before the majority of the public would have been even able to see the film, but I digress. Chalamet quickly went from the kid no one seemed to care about from Interstellar to a particular sort of cinematic superstar in very short order. The zealousness of his devoted fanbase projected his performance as some second coming of some great actor, no one in particular I suppose, perhaps because his work so stood alone there was no equal. Well that was the sentiment projected towards it anyways, and after seeing it for the first time I said......I don't get it. Okay maybe not quite I don't get it, as it is easy to see how some viewers could easily project themselves within the role, which I don't have a problem with however that doesn't deem itself to be some work of greatness. Having watched it now a second time though I have to say.....pretty much the same thing, though I'll admit the film itself was a little harder to get through due to its laborious pacing, however I guess at the very least can go see what Michael Stuhlbarg is doing as Elio's father with further context of his character granted by his final speech, which is mildly interesting. Having written all that though I won't fault a performance for simply not living up to almost impossible to achievable heights, and there is still a performance here.

I'll admit out the gate that unlike many a viewer I did not take a natural liking to Elio as a character as written. Frankly he's a bit of a self-indulgent privileged punk at times. Within context of the film Elio has no real conflict in the opening, the only conflicts are those of his own making. As played by Chalamet I won't say he eased these elements. I certainly did not sense this overwhelming charisma that creates an inherent likability beyond the actions of the character. Having said that though Chalamet does have certainly enough of a screen presence as an actor to project well in any given scene. This is particularly important towards this film that has its long, long, long, not Gus Van Sant long though still long, of scenes of Elio staring off into the distance, usually at that grad student house guest Oliver (Armie Hammer). Chalamet does not simply fade into the scenery which would have been quite possible given Luca Guadagnino's direction of the film. He is there within any given moment as Chalamet does establish himself as Elio well within the film. He isn't overly energetic, or anything like that, but he certainly does realize who this teenager is within this story.

Chalamet's performance is interesting in that he attempts to fashion the coming of age story in the film almost as this clash between maturity and youth. In terms of maturity Chalamet portrays Elio's "maturity" as very much combined with his ego. Early on in the film, particularly in his interactions with Oliver, Chalamet delivers his lines with the assurance as though Elio is the same league as his father. In public family situation he reacts with Oliver as though he is very much unimpressed with the man who himself basically acts more or less in the same way as Elio. In the scene for example where Oliver breaks down the etymology of apricot in an attempt to correct Elio's father, in reality it merely being a test for Oliver by Elio's father, Oliver speaks with certain smugness and overt pride in his success in correcting the professor. Chalamet in turn delivers that same smug self-satisfied delivery when letting Oliver know that his father gives the same test every year. Chalamet within the family portrays Elio as someone who is pretty assured that has little to learn from anyone specifically not Oliver. When showing off his own arrangements of music is perhaps this apex of this attitude, as Chalamet brings a real thrill within Elio's own manner as he espouses about his achievements. There couldn't be a great sense of assurance within Chalamet's portrayal of Elio's belief in his own sophistication.

That maturity and sophistication is realized within Chalamet's performance that while not a facade isn't necessarily a real maturity. That ego that Chalamet brings with it alludes to the right degree of overcompensation even if he wears this overcompensation rather well. This contrasts against Chalamet's reactionary portrayal of perhaps Elio's more honest emotions that he internalizes well within his work. In these silent scenes Chalamet conveys a far more youthful and impetuous side to Elio. He is able find within his eyes the greater insecurities as he watches the confident Oliver, and seems to reveal what helps to compel his initial confrontational behavior towards him. Chalamet is effective in the way he essentially goes from this child to attempted adult from moment to moment. In that if he looks directly at Oliver when he knows who's looking it is with the confidence of a fully grown man, but when he doesn't sense Oliver's awareness it is with a curiosity of someone still trying to discover his way. Within that as well is the sense of attraction that I will say Chalamet wholly covers on his side of the performance. That obsession of his is well realized in his portrayal in even the way he physical interacts with Hammer, before anything overtly physical happens between the two, is attuned towards him as though to always be near him in one way or another. He's terrific in capturing the way Elio becomes so transfixed by Oliver to the point that he would attempt to incite a romantic encounter himself.

Now here is perhaps where a little problem arises in that Armie Hammer doesn't exactly capture the sense that Oliver is still in his own point of discovery, I do think this is largely due to Hammer being far too old for a role as a 24 year old especially since Hammer looks far older than even his actual age as well. There is no sense of Oliver being in a similar state as Chalamet conveys with Elio leaving out essential element in the two finding each other in this similar moment in their lives. This reduces what should be an inherent intensity within Elio's first love basically. This is on the other half though as on Chalamet's end he does realize well Elio's state of being throughout the affair. That is in every encounter, every moment of denial, or acceptance Chalamet conveys an ever growing affection for Oliver. He almost wholly loses his bravado as their relationship continues and proceeds to bring less maturity in a way. Chalamet does make an interesting choice here in that shows the relationship in a way reduces Elio back more towards a child, not in a negative sense, but rather it reduces his false sense of maturity portraying Elio without any false defenses protecting his state. With this Chalamet presents this building love of Oliver that slowly makes him seemingly all the more attached and overtly connected towards Oliver in every interaction. There is this growth of lovers optimism as the way Chalamet looks upon Hammer, is though he's staring at the love of his life, the same is not returned from his partner though.

What Chalamet's performance does is find this way that Elio inflicts his own heartbreak. In that he shows the way Elio begins with affair with that overt confidence as though he is this mature adult who will be able to handle with this all entails. As it proceeds though Chalamet's incredibly effective in the way he reveals the boy basically comes out and reveals itself through his reactions of how he deals with the actual emotions the affair entails. Chalamet portrays it as Elio is almost going in as a Lothario but comes out on the opposite end of such behavior. This is particularly well discovered by his work as well in his secondary relationship with one of the local girls. A girl he seduces in a way Chalamet does without care, again with that confidence, then dispatches her without a second thought. After his experience with Oliver, who does the same with him, though we see finally a real maturity through Chalamet's performance. His final scene with her he finally brings no false bravado just a real understanding as he apologizes with all sincerity to her. That growth is made convincing by Chalamet as establishing this almost on a different wavelength then the one he had been in the opening of the film. There is of course still what he is left with through his own relationship with Oliver who leaves him with little solace once the summer is over, which leaves two scenes in the film. The first being when his father reveals the knowledge of the relationship while essentially coming out to his son as well. I have to say this is the one scene where Chalamet's work actually underwhelmed a little, as his reactions don't really say enough, and he lets Stuhlbarg steal the scene more than was necessary. There just isn't any sense of realization or enough reflection in the moment. A minor quibble though, and not the reason for the rating listed below. Thankfully he does make up for it in his final scene where he receives a final phone call from Oliver to basically confirm the rejection. Chalamet again reveals Elio's real attachment and love for her as directly and passionately as he can without any pretense. The same is not returned leaving Elio alone in his thoughts and a final shot in the film as he fully breaks down over his loss. It's a great singular moment for Chalamet, though I suppose my lack of investment within the film left it not as devastating for me. Now all that I have written from my introduction to right here are all the reasons this is a very good performance by the young Chalamet, it however has not convinced me that this is anything more than a very good performance which is nothing to turn your nose up at! I however did not see something truly extraordinary here that becomes compelling within itself but it is a more than promising beginning for the actor. 

21 comments:

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Could I have thoughts on those Foreign Language nominees that you saw and their casts.

And thoughts on Hammer and Stuhlbarg.

Luke Higham said...

1. Day-Lewis
2. Kaluuya
3. Washington
4. Oldman
5. Chalamet

Robert MacFarlane said...

To be honest I had my reservations with the film myself. In fact, I didn’t start to like it until the second half. But his work really did leave a huge impression on me. As for your point about Elio being kind of pretentious; I liked that. I liked that he had a fully-realized personality that wasn’t necessarily likable (much like Lady Bird). I don’t know, I guess I just found him a refreshing revelation in the Age of Elgort and Wolff. (Seriously, imagine Nat Wolff in the role)

Anonymous said...

1. Day-Lewis
2. Kaluuya
3. Washington
4. Oldman
5. Chalamet
Louis: Your cast and director for:
The Gambler (1930's version)
The Yakuza (1950's version)
Dressed to Kill (1960's version)

Michael McCarthy said...

This rating seems fair. Also I know that it's off-color but...has it occurred to any one else that there are two films nominated for Best Picture this year where Timothée Chalamet's character has a premature ejaculation? Can you imagine being a 22 year old actor and having that as a claim to fame?

Matt Mustin said...

Michael: He should put that in the "special skills" section of his resume.

Luke Higham said...

Still a great lineup guys. 23 out of 25 ain't bad. :)

Anonymous said...

Your the man Louis. Completely agree with your assessment.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Please do Alternate Supporting next. I only see 4 fives coming from that lineup compared to 7/8 in Lead.

Calvin Law said...

I liked the film a lot more than Louis but I can agree with this summation of the performance. I do hope for all the best in his future because he's talented, seems like a nice guy (his actor on actor interview with Kaluuya was great), and yes I have to concur with the legions of rabid fans he is a very good looking chap.

Calvin Law said...

Also I watched Roman J. Israel, strangely enough I quite enjoyed it, though it has some massive issues with the tonal shifts - Washington was great, not sure where I'd place him amongst the nominees but I agree entirely with Louis' review, though I have to say I didn't find him off-putting at all from the start, despite being wholly charmless. I'd actually love a Dan Gilroy universe (obviously not possible given Roman's ending) actually, seeing how Roman would defend Louis Bloom in a case.

Michael McCarthy said...

Call Me By Your Name is weird for me. I started out thinking it was quite good, then after a few days I moved it up to my top 10, then after two weeks it was back down to pretty good. Hammer believe it or not stuck with me the most about it, followed closely by Stuhlbarg's big scene.

Calvin Law said...

Stuhlbarg hasn't really stayed with me - his big speech is great but otherwise I found him pretty forgettable. Hammer was really good and I'll admit I never really thought of him as miscast.

Bryan L said...

Robert: Did you like Elgort in Baby Driver?

Michael McCarthy said...

Calvin: Have you seen it more than once? Because Stuhlbarg's performance probably has the most rewatch value.

Calvin Law said...

Michael: Yep. I didn't dislike him or anything just didn't feel he really built up to his big moment like Chalamet did. Still a great scene though.

Calvin Law said...

*on re-watch.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Stuhlbarg’s performance has only grown on me. My #3 behind Hamill and Stan.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

The Square is my favorite of the three that I've seen though I don't love the film. It tackles the art world as this vapid place as Toni Erdmann tackled the business world. I greatly preferred this film as at least the random strangeness seemed a bit more in place given the artistic displays as part of the story. This film plays as a series of vignettes which some I liked quite a bit, the man with Tourettes, Rocket from the apes movie, his last talk with Elisabeth Moss, his final press conference, overall I don't think the various elements really added up, particularly not the side story of the theft, but I at least enjoyed this movie in parts which is more than I can say for the other two.

Loveless is a miserable experience. This is intended, and I will say the film is well shot and well directed in a technical sense. You certainly will hate all of existence from watching it. It however feels very repetitious of The Return from the same director in terms of telling the story of parental neglect, I'm sure allegorical towards Russia neglecting its future due to self-absorption and all that. That film navigated the theme more effectively frankly. This one is repetitive within its story which is either a scene of the parents brutally fighting, the search for a missing child, or a scene of the parents in their separate places relationship that rather inert. I understood the film from the first fight, and then the rest was just rubbing in that theme like salt into a festering wound.

On Body and Soul I kind of hated. This is not just for its random disturbing imagery, which has context, but it seems excessive for the nature of the rest of the film that seems to try to be this hopeful love story. A love story that takes so long to get started the film is just about over once it does, and this is not a short film. Like Loveless it gives you its style and then sort of repeats for awhile before just a marginal advancement before the end of the film.

Hammer - 3.5(I don't think he's bad in the role but I will contend that he isn't really what Oliver should be. He has some genuinely good moments in his performance, such as his expression when leaving the train where he conveys the sense in Oliver that he's probably royally screwed up. I do think he falls a little too often on kind of the Armie Hammer hunk routine in the role, and limits the character by doing so. He makes his character feel perhaps too intangible at times, it works when he's suppose to be somewhat off-putting in his early scenes, but I don't think it was needed once the affair begins.)

Stuhlbarg - 4(A performance built around one scene, though at the end of the film. That scene though does influence the rest of his work where Stuhlbarg I'd say actually plays it as though he's trying to covertly seduce Oliver himself, particularly his naked statue slide show scene where he does reveal more of an overt intention in between the lines. I wouldn't say he stands out much though nonetheless. Stuhlbarg's great in his one scene, a scene I don't really care for as written, particularly due to some reactions where it has been known as this great father's speech. Yeah tell the kid "You'll never get over this! NEVER!", but hey that's the writing. Stuhlbarg delivers the speech by capturing the real sense of emotional pain and vulnerability as he speaks about his own experiences. His moment of expressing what his son's experience means to him is well realized by Stuhlbarg as he manages to conjure up a real sense of the man's own losses.)

Robert:

I'd rather not imagine that, but I've seen Death Note *shudders*.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Could I have your thoughts on Death Note after you've posted the results.

Psifonian said...

Chalamet was fine overall, definitely better than his miscast co-star, and my myriad issues with the film largely have little to do with him, but it's a performance that just kinda feels staid for much of the film's runtime (up until the last half-hour, actually). I find it interesting that when it comes to queer cinema, there seems to be a particular love affair for the reserved protagonist whose sexuality has been "awakened" but largely remains internalized in their feelings (i.e. Ledger, Exarchopoulos, Cullen, Mara, Rhodes to an extent, and now Chalamet), and I suspect that they largely act as something of a Rorschach test for anyone who has ever experienced similar things. It's not a bad thing by any means (that is, indeed, what art is supposed to do), but I often wonder whether people add their own interpretations and experiences onto the performance rather than what the actor does.

I think one of the things that irritates me most about the film is how everything feels portrayed at arm's length, and that level of detachment kind of kills any investment I have in his character. It also doesn't help that I think Elio is a bit of an entitled little shit. And even though I think that final shot is haunting, I don't rest its power entirely on Chalamet's shoulders. The music goes a hell of a long way towards making that shot work as well as it does.

TL;DR: Chalamet's good, not great.