Mark Ruffalo plays gay Jewish-American activist Ned Weeks who takes it upon himself to wage a war against HIV silences. That was the premise of “The Normal Heart,” HBO’s original movie that was screened Sunday night and became the most-talked about movie during Memorial Day Weekend.
‘The Normal Heart’ aired on May 25 over Memorial Day weekend, and critics have been praising Ryan Murphy’s latest venture about the heartbreaking early years of AIDS in the 1980s.
“The film doesn’t wonder. It says, ‘Yes, that’s pretty much what happened. And if you say otherwise, you’re naïve or lying.’ … If anger and suffering were all there were to The Normal Heart, watching it would be torture. Luckily, it has heart to match its guts. There’s always been a crackpot humanist sensibility in Murphy’s TV work, even when it was going for sadomasochistic violence or surreal kitsch.”
“In its totality, this represents a powerful piece of work, with Ruffalo overcoming the prickly aspects of his character to convey his pain, and Jim Parsons delivering a wonderful supporting turn, including a sobering scene in which he talks about eulogizing fallen friends. … Perhaps foremost, HBO once again straddles the cinematic line, providing a character-oriented drama with theatrical talent and values that would face challenges finding much purchase at the modern-day multiplex. And while there’s a premium-channel calculation in that strategy, the result is a movie, for mostly better and sometimes worse, that wears its heart on its sleeve.”
“Ultimately, the good in “Normal Heart” outweighs the bad, which isn’t always the case with Murphy’s work. It’s an important story packed with vivid individual moments, but with this material and these actors, it feels like it could be so much more than what it is.”
“With such strong, important material to film, Murphy has found a necessary restraint, channeling his sometimes garish energy through Kramer’s keening rage. The Normal Heart is not a subtle film; Ryan Murphy doesn’t do subtlety, nor does Larry Kramer. But that’s O.K. The film’s message, that activism often needs to be truly active, is served well by Murphy and Kramer’s elegant broad strokes.”
The Normal Heart is not a nuanced film; it would probably be a betrayal of the material to turn it into one. … It’s a first draft told by a first responder, with no time for niceties. But it is deepened and rounded out by some remarkable supporting performances, especially a fantastic Jim Parsons as Tommy, a warmhearted activist volunteer. As he speaks at a friend’s memorial–remembering the many, many other friends he’s memorialized–his kindly optimism gives way to despair at the waste of lives and inaction of the larger society, and it is devastating: ‘They just don’t like us.’”
Playwright Larry Kramer wrote the semi-autobiographical work, which opened as an Off-Broadway production in 1985. It has since been revived and performed numerous times since then, including a 2004 off-Broadway revival, a 1993 benefit reading organized by Barbara Streisand featuring Kevin Bacon in the lead role, and finally reaching Broadway proper in 2011.
The ever-evolving Ryan Murphy directed the film, but this isn’t his first time. Murphy also created this short docu-video, The Fight Continues, about homophobia and the AIDS crisis. Clearly, the cause is very dear to his heart.