Call Me by Your Name is perhaps the best movie of 2017 that nobody saw coming. This film is emotional, romantic, moving, and unbelievably engaging. With a tiny budget, celebrity-free cast and crew, and European influence, this is a film that wasn’t expected to make a splash of any kind. But because this movie is so good, it’s getting attention for Oscars and other awards, meaning we are lucky enough to hear that it exists. With thousands of movies made each year that nobody ever hears about, the only reason this movie is at all on our radar is because it’s so good. According to the evidence, the stars have aligned for this movie to be good. Now I’m here as an eyewitness to tell you it’s easily one of the best movies of the year.
Call Me by Your Name is based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman. The film tells the story of the budding romance between Elio and Oliver. Elio is a 17-year-old staying in Northern Italy with his family while his father is doing archeological research. Oliver, a 24-year-old American with overwhelming confidence, is the latest intern for Elio’s father. As Elio continues through his regular vacation-like life, reading, studying music, and flirting with girls, he becomes increasingly fascinated by Oliver. Slowly, both of them begin to discover something is there which neither of them first realized.
The first thing to recognize in Call Me by Your Name are the performances. The film is carried on the back of an actor who many will be hearing of for the first time: Timothee Chalamet. Chalamet has appeared in several minor roles over the years in films like Interstellar and in a recurring role in Homeland. With Call Me by Your Name, Chalamet gets easily the largest role of his career, and will likely be getting an Oscar nomination for this unforgettable performance. The entire plot of this movie is structured around the emotions and relationships of Chalamet’s character, and in absolutely every aspect, Chalamet plays the role to perfection. Whether it’s with his romantic relationship with Oliver, the flirtatious friendships with girls, or his relationship with his parents, Chalamet in this film plays a teenager unlike any we’ve ever seen before in a film. What he’s playing is a teenager with dynamic characteristics and emotions, who is not defined by any singular thing. And this Chalamet executes flawlessly.
While Chalamet certainly steals the show in Call Me by Your Name, there is a supporting performance that deserves attention. The person I’m talking about is not Armie Hammer, who plays Oliver. Frankly, in every way that Chalamet’s character was dynamic, Hammer’s character was fairly single-noted. While Hammer’s performance could have been more thoughtful, much of the fault in his character lies in what he was given in the screenplay. Instead, the supporting performance that deserves attention in Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Elio’s father. Stuhlbarg’s character is often present, but always in the background. Stuhlbarg has plenty of experience in such roles, and therefore knows how to make the best of it, as you can see while closely watching this film. What’s truly brilliant about his performance, however, is how the subtle and nonchalant brilliance of his background appearances set him up for his grandslam performance when he briefly takes center stage in the final act. This scene is maybe the most powerful in the film, and Stuhlbarg deserves a lot of the credit. Stuhlbarg is a largely underrated actor and has been for some time, but in this film, he does work that must be noticed.
The truth is, however, that when the film finishes you aren’t thinking about the performances. When the film finishes, you’re thinking about the characters, you’re thinking about their emotions, and you’re thinking about the story. From the first act of this movie, you are totally sucked into the lives of the characters, wanting desperately to get to know each of them better. Call Me by Your Name is maybe the most engaging film of 2017, but not because it had an overly exciting storyline that keeps you guessing. On the contrary, the plot is extraordinarily simple and could probably be summed up in a couple seconds. That’s because with how Luca Guadagnino directs the film, Call Me by Your Name does not tell a story with events. Instead, he tells the story almost solely through emotions. Very rarely, if ever, does this movie strictly tell you what is happening in the story. Instead, Guadagnino focuses on conveying the emotions of the protagonist by showing scenes and relationships that are seemingly irrelevant. Because When Guadagnino is doing this, he is better acquainting the audience with the protagonist, and the better we know him, the more we know how he feels, and the story gets told.
To pick apart this movie scene by scene, you would get a series of scenes that are undeniably beautiful and brilliantly acted, but feel somewhat random. Yet when played together in the visceral way which Guadagnino tells the story, Call Me by Your Name becomes captivating and moving. Watching a film like this makes you wonder how a director can envision a story being told in this way. Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder. We just get to watch and enjoy.
I give Call Me by Your Name an 8.8/10.