Someone should let filmmakers know that just because a romance features a nontraditional pairing—typically a gay relationship, because that’s as nontraditional as the general audience will be comfortable to watch—that doesn’t give it an excuse to not create strong characters. There’s a niche of cinema for gay romance that does this better than most of the ones we get into cinemas. Call Me By Your Name forgets to give us characters we’re going to care about, and despite being otherwise lovely, can’t generate the emotional response it so clearly wants because of this.
Taking place in the early 1980s in Italy, Call Me By Your Name follows Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a multilingual 17-year-old who lives in a big house with his mother (Amira Casar) and professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Every summer, his father takes on a younger academic to help with research, and this year it’s Oliver (Armie Hammer). Elio soon falls in love with Oliver. The plot doesn’t get much more complicated than that.
It wants to be an exploration of young love, of an awakening sexuality, and, eventually, of what to take from all of the relationships you wind up having over the course of your life, whether they last or not, and whether they’re romantic or otherwise. The film is thematically rich, wonderfully shot, and has more than adequate acting. But in order to truly captivate an audience you need to hook our emotions, and without characters worth caring about, that’s not going to happen. And with a pretty basic plot, that leaves Call Me By Your Name a little dull. It’s nowhere close to as dull as director Luca Guadagnino‘s previous film, A Bigger Splash, but it’s enough to prevent it from being a great film.
Conclusion: Call Me By Your Name is a pretty good movie that fails to become great due to a lack of strong characters and emotional hooks.
Recommendation: You can probably do better than Call Me By Your Name, but it does have a lot to like. Check it out if it interests you.