Buying McConaughey

Now, just because in a moment of weakness I may have conceded to a pretty girl that How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days isn’t a totally worthless movie, don’t think I’m some kind of Wedding Planner watching, Fool’s Gold digging Matthew McConaughey fan. No way.

But I saw Dallas Buyer’s Club last week, and I’m going to have to rethink that position. McConaughey has canned the bland charm he’d built a career on. Instead, he plays a gaunt, sick, scared, lascivious man with a big fight in him. All of a sudden, he’s more Daniel Day-Lewis than Ryan Gosling.

Dallas Buyer’s Club, directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée, tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan electrician and rodeo cowboy diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. But, as Woodroof tells the doctor, “I got a news flash for all y’all: there ain’t nothin’ out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in thirty days”. In his quest not to be proven wrong on that point, Woodroof discovers a raft of unapproved HIV drugs available in Mexico. Before long, he’s operating a full-blown import racket—a “buyers club”—keeping himself and many others alive where doctors could not, and making a tidy profit at it.

McConaughey is a passionate degenerative revelation as Woodroof, but his supporting cast is sometimes less spectacular. Jennifer Garner, as Woodruff’s sympathetic but powerless doctor, looks like she thought this was a sequel to her last appearance with McConaughey, in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. McConaughey’s Woodroof crackles with the energy of a dying man burning to live, and all she can do in response is smile coyly and giggle. Dennis O’Hare is similarly one-dimensional as the cold, money-minded hospital chief. Jared Leto, on the other hand, gives as good as he gets playing Rayon, a transexual who becomes Woodroof’s business partner and unlikely friend. Leto and McConaughey, working with a strong script, are vivid enough together to make any weaknesses of the film seem like quibbles.

Ron Woodroof was a real person; he told his story to screenwriter Craig Borten in 1992, a month before he died. After more than twenty years, his story has arrived on screen with the vitality and power to make it more than worth the wait. I never thought I’d say this, but give McConaughey the Oscar.

I wrote this review for Farrago, who kindly sent me along to a cool preview screening in a hidden back-lot cinema.

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