Based on the 1985 play of the same name, The Normal Heart delves into the frustration and loss felt amongst the gay community in 1980s America, when AIDS was emerging as an unknown and hugely ignored disease. Taking much inspiration from his own life and experiences, writer Larry Kramer used The Normal Heart as a means to express his own anger at having lost so many of his friends to the disease. Set between 1981 and 1984, Mark Ruffalo stars as Ned Weeks, a writer who after watching his friends fall victim to the disease, begins a group known as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in attempt to collect funding and raise awareness of AIDS. He partners up with Doctor Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts), and Felix (Matt Bomer), a gay writer for the New York Times, in order to help other gay men better understand the disease, but is met by a continual lack of support from the American public, the medical community and the government.
As the movie progresses, Ned becomes more and more infuriated by the lack of acknowledgement, and begins using his platform as a writer to express these thoughts to the public. But the rest of GMHC are unhappy with Ned’s extreme strategies, and tensions start to form within the group, only exacerbated by the fact that more and more gay men are constantly losing their battles against this vicious and seemingly unstoppable disease.
There is obviously good intentions with this film, and the themes of loss, discrimination and ignorance are ones that are important in today’s society despite the events taking place some thirty years ago. But, in my opinion, The Normal Heart just misses the mark in terms of being an engaging and well-executed film. Director Ryan Murphy (of Glee and The New Normal fame) is well renowned for being a spokesperson of LGBT rights, but the warmth and brightness that he usually brings to his work is severely lacking in The Normal Heart. Granted, it is a very tragic subject, but there is so much angst and gloominess to this film that it is overwhelming and somewhat off-putting. It is a heavy handed drama with no light and shade, completely lacking in terms of injecting at least a little bit of humour or lightheartedness to reflect the balance of comedy and tragedy in real life.
I also struggled to connect with the characters in the film, who seemed a tad underdeveloped and two-dimensional, merely acting as vessels through which the plot was being told. They appeared to me to represent too many of the stereotypes associated with the gay lifestyle, which is strange considering the gay representation on the film crew behind the movie, including the director and writer. The acting was strong, but not exceptional by any means, which only furthered my struggle to get involved with the characters. This excludes Jim Parsons, who played GMHC member Tommy and whose performance only goes to show that he deserved every single one of those Emmy awards for his work on The Big Bang Theory.
In saying this, the film is undoubtedly moving and poignant. As hard to watch as it is, there is a perfectly good reason for this – what these men went through during the early 1980s was unfair and completely devastating. I just wish that this message could have been conveyed in a more involving way, to really drive home the continued importance of gay rights, which even in today’s world still has a ways to go.