For years now HBO has used Memorial Day Weekend as the time to debut their big TV movie of the season. Ratings haven’t exactly been great there but it also serves as a prime spot to set up an Emmy campaign for the movie. Plus last year’s edition was Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, which was quite good. So this year’s edition, The Normal Heart, had a lot to live up to. While The Normal Heart has a strong cast that is used effectively (with a few notable exceptions), some poor direction ruins whatever potential this movie had.
The Normal Heart follows the beginning of the AIDS crisis through the eyes of the gay community as well as the rise of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis group, which tries to raise founds to combat AIDS. The film is directed by Ryan Murphy (from Glee and American Horror Story fame) and is written by Larry Kramer, who adapted it from his own play.
The Normal Heart suffers from a lot of problems but none more so than Ryan Murphy’s direction. I haven’t seen much of Ryan Murphy’s work but what I have seen is not good (with the exception of the Glee pilot). Everything is over-the-top but without any style to it. His work is usually just a bland mess, and this is no exception. That is a shame because the material deserves a much more subtle sense of style behind the helm. Additionally, it doesn’t help the film that this material has been done a lot better and recently too. How to Survive a Plague covers almost the exact same material and is much more thrilling and informative than this is. Even Behind the Candelabra did a better job of portraying how AIDS can destroy a life.
That being said there are a lot of great performances within the film. Joe Mantello nails his big scene. Jim Parsons is great throughout, and Taylor Kitsch stands out with some subtle acting on his part in the midst of such loudness. Unfortunately, that loudness can be a bit too loud in the case of a few performances. Such is the case with Julia Roberts, who very much wants you to know that she is ACTING with this performance. Meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo gets lost in the fray and Matt Bomer delivers a solid performance if not the scene stealing performance that his is made out to be.
Great acting is on display in The Normal Heart but little else is worthwhile about it.