A star is born, finally

A star is born, finally

Dallas Buyers Club 

English(A) ****

Directed: Jean-Marc Vallée

Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

While mainstream Hollywood is largely content with making bloated CGI spectacles, quiet groups of filmmakers are making pictures which continue to explore the human condition.  

In his new independent film, Dallas Buyers Club, the once-underrated Jean-Marc Vallée (and I say once, because that will no longer be the case) has crafted a blunt, sometimes painful, but often satisfying film about men and women afflicted with HIV-AIDS in the ’80s and how their lives were irrevocably dwindled by government lethargy, social ostracism and the bogeyman-like disease from which there was no return. 

For the once-undisputed king of the romantic-comedy, Mathew McConaughey, the film has also served as a sort of cathartic regencies, a rebirth. 

McConaughey’s real-life character in the film, Ron Woodroof, was a part-time electrician, small-time rodeo-star and a full-time homophobe, wedded to cocaine, groupies and hookers. 

Firmly entrenched in that category of insouciantly prejudiced and loud trailer-trash endemic to Texas society, Woodroof discovers by accident that he is HIV-positive, and instantly protests that there must be some mistake. There is no way he can have a queer’s disease. 

When the doctors give him thirty days to live, Woodroof’s first reaction is disbelief, followed by a frantic attempt to join the pilot programme for AZT, a promising early cure endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Stunned that he cannot get AZT because of his advanced illness and appalled to learn that the drug is killing more patients than it is helping, Woodroof sets up a “buyers club” for non-FDA-approved, but effective drugs from other countries. Four hundred dollars a month gets you all the pills, vitamins and proteins you need to get better, he tells his clients – a steal compared to the $833 that the hospitals charge for AZT.

Along the way, he becomes a business partner with a transvestite Raylon (wonderfully played by Jared Leto), battles the all-powerful FDA, platonically romances a sympathetic doctor from the evil hospital, stands up for little guy, see gays as people, humiliates corrupt doctors and fights the good fight. How much of this is true is debatable. The real-life Woodroof, far from being a gay-basher, may have been bisexual. 

The film is guilty of liberties, but it is a faithful and damning indictment of American healthcare which is described as being in bed with pharmaceutical companies. In the outstanding 1993 HBO film And the Band Played On, delays for a cure to HIV-AIDS are blamed on credit-seeking vultures in the Center for Disease Control. 

In Dallas Buyer’s Club, the criticism is more pointed, at the cohort of hospital administrators who collaborated with pharmaceutical firms to push a flawed drug, even as thousands died. 

Here, the film does not deviate. Here, the film is a triumph for the acting profession, Vallée and his crew, and the truth that one doesn’t need a gazillion dollars, an army of animators, gaff men and assistants to make a compelling film.

When McConaughey was first discovered in ‘90s, he was touted as the next Paul Newman. But somewhere in the maze of one-dimensional rom-com characters, he had lost his way. It is heartening to see him finally filling those big shoes.

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