Since it premiered at film festivals earlier this year, Call Me by Your Namehas inspired reviews that sound as though they were written in mid-swoon. Frankly, the movie itself encourages this: It’s a lush wallow at an Italian villa, a coming-of-age story that presents sensual adventure and a warm portrait of a functional family. Everything’s ideal, even the angst. It also features sex with a piece of fruit, although this is rendered cute and endearing; nothing too weird disturbs this movie’s handsome surface.
If I sound a little skeptical, I am—but the film is certainly pleasant to be seduced by.
The provocation begins with the title, a kind of reverse cultural appropriation: Nate Parker’s Sundance smash takes its name from a famous film released 101 years ago. Not just any film, but a cinematic titan of its era:The Birth of a Nation. D.W. Griffith’s mammoth Civil War film sold more tickets than any other movie, inspired a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and caused enormous controversy as soon as it was released. The film is a synthesis of Griffith’s profound cinematic eloquence and some appallingly racist material, the latter having frequently dominated the conversation about Birth. Parker is reclaiming the title and adjusting film history. Fair enough, but if you’re going to reach that big, you’d better deliver.
Is there anything as surefire as the William Tell Overture? I mean, who messes that up? Whatever the Disney people do with the new big-budget version of The Lone Ranger, at least they’ll get the famous music right, right? Well, funny story. The music—and so many other things—are all wrong about The Lone Ranger, a mechanical contraption that never decides what it wants to be. The Lone Ranger’s squeaky-clean image and code of behavior are hopelessly square for the 21st century, but the movie hasn’t come up with anything viable to replace what worked in those thrilling days of yesteryear.
The casting is promising: Johnny Depp is Tonto, which means the masked man’s Indian sidekick is not a sidekick anymore. (Somewhere, Jay Silverheels is smiling—top-billed at last.) And Armie Hammer, who played the computer-generated twins of The Social Network, has the strong jaw and straightforward manner for a credible John Reid, aka the Lone Ranger. As it happens, Hammer plays the tenderfoot card and not much else, while Depp is busy doing his actorly fiddling. We first meet Tonto in old age, recalling his past glories (this is merely the first echo of Little Big Man), but for most of the film Depp is covered in tribal makeup, fur, and a dead crow he wears atop his head; it’s hard for his impish personality to break the surface.