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He Said, She Said Review Site

Dallas Buyer's Club

What She said:

She

I’ll be honest.  I was not too interested in Dallas Buyers Club.  It seemed like way too much of a downer movie for me.  But the more I thought about Matthew McConaughey’s recent track record as an actor, the more I began to cave.  He’s just been stellar of late, and I thought he had potential is the challenging role of AIDS patient, Ron Woodroof.

Dallas Buyers Club brings us back in time to the mid-1980s, when risky lifestyles were more prevalent, and the AIDS epidemic was still in its early years.  Medicine had not gotten a full handle yet on the disease, and so there were many myths and a lot of misinformation regarding how it was transmitted and best courses for treatment.  In 1985, being diagnosed with HIV was a swift death sentence, with many patients living for less than six months, and so you can imagine Ron Woodroof’s shock when he’s sat down by doctors and told that very thing.  Initially, he simply cannot believe it.  Another misconception from the early days of AIDS was a belief that it was a disease that only affected homosexuals.  Woodroof is a ladies man to the core—and also an extreme homophobe—and so he actually takes the diagnosis as an insult.

Dallas Buyer's Club

Told he only has 30 days to live—and seeing that his condition is clearly grave—Woodroof begins to do his own investigating and learns some of the truths around HIV.  However, upon realizing that yes, he has AIDS, he’s quickly then ostracized by his friends.  But this is not priority one for Woodroof, surviving is.  Woodroof is a grumpy camper, and becomes even more grumpy when he learns that his best chance for treatment involves enrolling in a year-long trial of a new investigational drug, in which half of participants won’t actually receive the drug at all.  So he’d have a 50 percent chance of receiving a placebo instead.  This is not good enough for Woodroof, and so he takes measures into his own hands—first using the black market to obtain the controversial drug, and then going to Mexico when his in-state supply runs out.

Woodroof meets a doctor who convinces him that his best chances for survival right now are to try to more generally improve his health through vitamins, supplements, and diet.  Many of the pills and injections he’s recommended are not FDA approved, and so he has to quietly smuggle them into the country.  Once Woodroof sees an improvement in his condition, he decides that he needs to help others have access to the same treatment options.  He sets up a “buyers’ club,” where participants pay a monthly fee in exchange for these alternative medicines.  Woodroof’s club blurs the line between what is legal and illegal, and pretty soon he finds himself a target of the FDA and DEA.  Woodroof makes it his mission to see others with AIDS have access to whatever treatments they’d like, and spends years doing so.  Along the way, he finds himself making new friends and becoming more tolerant to others.

I’ll stop short of saying that Ron Woodroof became a good person.  He always had his vices, and he remained largely motivated by money.  But Dallas Buyers Club shows us a man who at his weakest moments found perseverance and a drive to live on.  These are some pretty good qualities.  He also goes from being extremely homophobic to much more tolerant to a lifestyle that he may not entirely agree with.  This is represented through Woodroof’s friendship with Rayon, a cross-dressing fellow AIDS patient.  Woodroof becomes a tsar of alternative treatment options—for good and for bad.

The story here is apparently true.  As per the usual, it’s unclear just how “based on a true story” the film really is, as I’m sure the moviemakers took some artistic license.  But I found it fascinating to watch Woodroof attempt to navigate the medical profession and government to pursue the therapies he believed were best for him.  He worked his way around a lot of red tape, and engaged in plenty of legal and illegal activity to get what he wanted.  The bureaucracy is both interesting and infuriating to watch. 

Dallas Buyer's Club

This film is filled with rich characters who have a lot of depth to them.  Woodroof is an extremely troubled man, and we get to see him struggle, adapt, and overcome at various points throughout the movie.  At the same time, he remains extremely flawed.  Likewise, Rayon is a mess of a person, and while he has a good heart, he cannot help but remain involved with the behavior that got him in a bad position to begin with.  We’re also introduced to Dr. Eve Saks, a doctor of conventional medicine who helps treat Woodroof periodically.  She grows as a person, as she goes from being a straight-edged, by-the-book physician, to someone who begins to understand the merits of sometimes approaching illness by thinking outside-the-box.  She develops a very unlikely friendship with Woodroof.

Aside from the characters, the other great thing about this movie is the acting.  McConaughey as Woodroof and Jared Leto as Rayon both transformed themselves physically and emotionally to take on their roles.  It’s shocking to see both actors lose so much weight to accurately depict someone in the final stages of illness.  It’s disturbing and extremely effective.  I can see why both actors have received critical acclaim and award recognition for their depictions of these troubled characters.  Jennifer Garner is also quite good as Dr. Saks.  She’s right for the role as a goody-goody who becomes reformed.

This film is, for the most part, a downer.  For those who did not live through the early days of the AIDS epidemic, it provides context and history for the illness, which is still rampant today.  Like the HBO film, And the Band Played On, it’s an effective way for the layperson to become acquainted with this period in epidemiology.  With powerful performances and a subject matter that remains extremely relevant, it’s hard to not recommend this film.

What He said:

He

I can’t imagine what it is like living during a period in time in which a health crisis as big as the discovery and initial outbreak of AIDS occurred. Ok, I was alive when it happened, but it wasn’t a concern for an infant. Something that new and deadly has to be absolutely terrifying to be around, especially back in the days when people didn’t know exactly how and why it was spreading so quickly. Back then people thought you could get it by doing little more than looking at someone with HIV/AIDS.

Dallas Buyer's Club

So you can imagine Ron Woodruff’s reaction he’s told he not only has it, but that he only has about 30 days to live. Actually, his initial reaction is complete and total denial. You see Ron (Matthew McConaughey) is a manly man and only “fags” (that should tell you something about the environment he lives in) get AIDS. Right? That’s what people really thought back then though.

It’s also something of a minor miracle he’s even alive. Even if he didn’t’ have HIV, Ron has destroyed his body through recreational drug use.

Another thing about Ron is that he likes to party and he likes to party hard. This guy doesn’t do anything half-hearted. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are what Ron lives for. You see, Ron works for a rodeo. He’s an electrician. And apparently the behind-the-scenes scene at the rodeo – at least back then – was like a rock concert. Gambling – usually on the rodeo itself – booze, drugs, and frequent unprotected sex were all a big part of that culture. So after doing some research, and thinking about some of his activities, Ron realizes that he likely caught AIDS from that prostitute who was known to use needles to get high from time-to-time.

Once he comes to grips with the fact that he has it, he goes right to the hospital to seek treatment. The same hospital he stormed out of when they first told him he was sick. He meets with Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) and requests to be put on the clinical trials for this new drug called AZT. You see, Ron doesn’t have the best manners in the world. He’s the kind of guy that just does something when he sets his mind to it. He is told he has AIDS, and once he gets to the point he can accept that, he demands to be one of the test subjects. But back here in the real world, the list has already been made. The participants in the study have already been chosen and she can’t help hm. So once again, Ron storms out of the hospital.

In typical Ron fashion, he finds a way to get what he needs. He bribes a hospital worker to get him some of these new pills. When that is no longer an option, Ron takes it up several notches.

He heads down to Mexico to get more AZT, but is told they don’t have any. That hospital barely has lights and running water let alone experimental drugs only recently approved for testing by the FDA. What they do have is lots of vitamins, proteins, and an experimental drug called peptide T. After taking the mixture of different drugs, he notices an improvement in his health. So he comes up with a plan to take the drugs across the border and sell them to other AIDS patients; in an attempt to fund his own treatment.

Dallas Buyer's Club

Everything’s not all peaches and cream though. When you play doctor, and really aren’t one, you are likely to things wrong and end up in the hospital. This exact thing happens to Ron when he gives himself a heart attack as a result of the concoction he’s been taking. I forget the details behind it, but I think he was taking too much of it. The concoction Dr. Vass – the doctor from Mexico – has been providing Ron with definitely helps him, but I think Ron was simply taking too much of it.

When in the hospital a couple of things happen. First, the doctors discover he’s been taking a bunch of experimental stuff – they can see it in his blood – and want to know where he got it. The head doctor and the FDA are on his ass. They are livid that he has been treating himself and treating himself with drugs that aren’t approved by the FDA.

The other thing that happens is that he meets a transgender woman named Rayon (Jared Leto). Rayon is sharing a room with Ron; who is not too happy when he finds out he’s sharing a room with not only a gay man, but one that dresses like a woman. This is unacceptable to Ron, who wants “it” to just stay away from him. Rayon is nice to him despite his cold demeanor.

After they are both discharged, Ron ends up connecting with Rayon because he sees it as an opportunity to get more clients. It’s an uneasy partnership. Like I said earlier, Ron is not a fan of homosexuals.

Over time their business grows, which catches the attention of doctors and the FDA. Dr. Saks is eager to know more, because many of her patients are forgoing treatment for the sake of Ron’s “vitamin” packs. The FDA wants to nail him because he’s selling stuff that isn’t approved, and medicine does need to be regulated after all, and they aren’t making any money off of it. They try to prosecute, but Ron has found some kind of loop hole. He’s not selling drugs, he’s selling “memberships” to a group and giving the drugs away. The drugs – like vitamins – aren’t approved by the FDA, but taking vitamins isn’t illegal and since these drugs aren’t illegal (they’re simply not approved by the FDA) they can’t do anything to him. The cat and mouse game between Ron and the FDA is interesting and even a little amusing to watch at times.

The thing I really liked about this movie is that it is about many different things. There are a lot of different things going on here. They’re all interconnected, but there are several different parts to the storyline. It’s about the AIDS epidemic, friendships – particularly people from different backgrounds – and about personal growth. It’s a character study for both Ron (mostly Ron) and Eve. He’s a hard-partying, very rough around the edges cowboy who does what he wants when he wants. That still stands even when he’s diagnosed and living a mostly clean lifestyle. He just redirects his bad boy-ness in another direction. Ron is a full blown drug smuggler technically speaking. He dresses up as a priest, business man, and just about anything else he can think of in order to get his drugs and bring them into the country. And make no mistake Ron begins this venture to make money so that he can continue to treat himself. Eve turns from a by-the-book doctor to one who questions the system, when she sees the hospital and FDA continuing to push AZT and not even considering  Ron’s findings. You also get to see the evolution of a man before your eyes. Ron begins the story as a full blown bigot. Make no mistake of that. But as he watches his friends ostracize him when he’s diagnosed, he starts to understand Rayon a little better.

Rayon is as interesting a character as Ron is. Eve knows Rayon. They grew up together. But at some point in life Eve chose school and Rayon chose the streets. When you see the two of them interact, you see the human being – or at least who he used to be – and you see why she cares about him. He’s a really sensitive person and pretty nice human being too. He genuinely cares about people. But he’s also a drug addict who doesn’t care if his habit will kill him or not. His lifestyle is why he is where he is, but does that stop him from shooting up or selling his body on the streets? It’s hard to watch because there’s a part of you that wants to see the guy get his act together, but the realist in me can’t help and be reminded that he did this to himself. Much like Ron, he leads a reckless lifestyle. Sometimes you feel really bad for the guy and others you just want to grab him, lock him in a room, and slap him, and force him to get clean; because you know he sure as shit isn’t going to do it on his own.

There’s a lot of powerful stuff going on here. Ron develops friendships with both Eve and Rayon, Rayon develops a friendship with Ron – when that literally seems impossible between these two – and we get to see Eve interact with both someone she’s known and cared for a very long time and a new, but intense friendship in Ron. I can see why the actors all earned praise for their roles. They earned it.

If you know me, you know I don’t really get excited for dramas, but when I find one I like, I’m all in. Kudos to all involved for a fantastic movie, even if it is a bit of a downer.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on May 18, 2014.

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