‘Call Me By Your Name’ Review: An Exquisite Queer Romance That Will Steal Your Heart
Nothing aches quite like first love. It grips hold of you like a disease, consuming you with desire, enveloping your day dreams with thoughts of another’s face, scent, and smile. In Call Me By Your Name, Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino takes us to the sun-drenched Italian countryside for an exquisite queer romance that you’ll want to soak up every minute of.
It’s 1983, somewhere in Northern Italy and Elio is leisurely transcribing music at his parents’ summer villa. Played by Timothee Chalamet (Homeland, Interstellar), Elio is a scrawny 17-year-old Italian-American boy with a library for a brain. He spends his days reading books, biking through Italian piazzas, and smoking cigarettes. Elio hooks up with young Italian girls with ease, but when the 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives, a new yearning starts bubbling within him. Oliver is blonde, tanned, and handsome, like a real-life version of the Greco-Roman sculptures Oliver studies with Elio’s professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Calling Oliver a charmer would be an understatement; he gushes with charisma and sensuality. Over the course of Oliver’s summer visit, the two try to impress one another with their wells of bookish knowledge, discussions over art, and flirtatious swims.
Guadagnino has a way of making the burning essence of desire palpable onscreen, and it’s why he’s the perfect fit to adapt André Aciman’s queer romance novel with the help of co-screenwriter James Ivory. He did it throughout I Am Love, and again in last year’s A Bigger Splash. Throughout Call Me By Your Name Guadagnino shows us how love has the power to make the mundane and the familiar feel spectacular, like when Elio watches Oliver ravenously eat a soft-boiled egg, the yolk gushing onto the plate. There’s be one scene from Call Me By Your Name people will definitely be talking about. I won’t spoil it entirely, but let’s just call it the art house version of the famous American Pie scene, only it involves a piece of fruit and is about ten times more provocative, emotional, and moving than Jason Biggs humping a pie. It’s an incredible display of Guadagnino’s sensual directing style as well as Chalamet’s superb performance.
Anyone can shoot sex scenes, but in Call Me By Your Name the moments of eroticism are more about emotional expressions than explicitly sexual ones. Elio and Oliver may not identify as gay, a word never uttered in the movie, but their relationship reflects the curiosity, confusion, and shame that can come with queer sexuality. Guadagnino does a remarkable job of capturing the tension and anxiety that comes with not only first love, but first-time queer romances. It’s a very specific feeling of desiring someone society has told you you shouldn’t, finding subtle ways to send them signals, and the agony that follows of waiting and wondering if they desire you back.
Chalamet and Hammer are both excellent at navigating the push-and-pull between Elio and Oliver. Their performances emphasize the power of body language, and the ways longing can be communicated through nuanced actions instead of words. Hammer often plays a snobby charmer, but here he exudes an affectionate sweetness, and it’s his best performance to date. Chalamet’s most stunning moment comes in the film’s final devastating scene. (Whatever you do, don’t leave when the credits start rolling.) As Elio’s father, Stuhlbarg lingers in the background for much of the film, but near the end he performs one of the most staggering monologues I’ve ever seen. I was already in love with Call Me By Your Name by that point, but when Stuhlbarg’s monologue arrived, I was floored. It’s a testament to his skills as an actor that he continually turns small roles into unforgettable, fully realized characters.
Any of Guadagnino’s cinematic trips to sunny Italy are worth taking, but Call Me By Your Name may be his most tender and sumptuous work yet. Unlike his previous two films, which tell stories about betrayal and pivot towards intense, dark twists in their third act, Call Me By Your Name is a much more human story that finds the beauty in the anguish and thrill of young love. It reminds us how romance has the power to make us feel alive, to make the ordinary feel extraordinary, and to even claim a piece of us.