Saturday 8 February 2014


(Jean-Marc Valleé, 2013)

Somehow less than the sum of it's parts, Valleé's biopic of Ron Woodruff, an AIDS patient in 1980s Dallas who confounds the Medical establishment and defies the FDA by importing unapproved drugs from Mexico, Japan, Holland and Israel is nevertheless filled with good things.
Most notable of those is another in what is becoming a long series of great Matthew McConaughey performances. Ridiculous 50 pound weight-loss aside, he plays Woodruff as a swaggering good old boy and unabashed homophobe who is transformed by his efforts to manage his own condition and his encounters with fellow (mostly gay) sufferers. Expansive, charismatic and funny, Woodruff's journey is predictable but made believable by McConaughey never playing it easy - he starts to help people because he sees an opportunity to make money, and his eventual softening towards extroverted Drag Queen Rayon (Jared Leto, similarly excellent) is slow and authentically scarred by misunderstanding and prejudice.
The plot kicks in once Woodruff has been diagnosed and begins to investigate possible treatments. A sojourn in a Mexican clinic convinces him that treating symptoms is the way to go, and he begins importing drugs in huge quantities and exploiting a legal loophole by selling memberships in a "Buyers Club" which entitles it's members to free medication. Along the way he encounters homophobia alongside the opposition of the FDA and the IRS. He is supported by a kindly doctor (Jennifer Garner), and finds his friendship with her and Rayon more fulfilling than the macho bluster he shared with his old friends, who all shun him after his diagnosis.
Valleé keeps his style loose and edgy, finding the beauty in trailer parks and motel lots, using an electric buzz on the soundtrack to signal vividly the moments when Woodruff's illness gets the better of him.
But the screenplay is a little trite, a little repetitive, a little too by-numbers, and it never really feels worthy of the performances of this cast or director.

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