Review: ‘The Normal Heart’ 9.9.14

Another gem in a string of exemplary made for TV films by HBO. Which, I personally think are just as good as any feature films that get a theatrical release and in some cases, sometimes better (last year’s “Behind The Candelabra” being one that comes to mind). This piqued my interest after having seen it rack up Emmy nominations and/or wins in almost every category – Outstanding Television Movie (won), 1 Best Actor nomination, 4 Supporting Actor nominations, 1 Supporting Actress nomination, and also nominations for Directing, Writing, and Cinematography. So at the very least I knew I was getting myself into something that was going to be worthwhile. That, and I am really passionate about the subject matter, which is the HIV/AIDS virus that sprung up in the early 1980’s and became one of the worst health crises in the history of America. I am particularly interested in why the United States government chose to neglect treating millions of unhealthy patients, because they thought them to be “sick” (figuratively speaking that is). How an atrocity of this proportion could have possibly occured has always and will continue to always fascinate me. As depressing as the topic may be.

This focused on the beginning years of the epidemic. Which essentially took place between 1981-1985, when the HIV virus had just started to be detected and people started to become aware of a disease that would ultimately wind up killing millions of lives. Shown through the eyes of its central character, played by Mark Ruffalo (in yet another knockout performance), a gay writer, who recognizes early on that his life’s calling is in AIDS awareness and activism. He eventually becomes the Co-Founder of an organization called the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. We are shown the relationship between him and his brother, played by Alfred Molina (one of the strongest dynamics in the film), who has never agreed with his brother’s lifestyle which pulls them further and further apart especially as his brother gets deeper and deeper and more passionate about the cause. Another key player is one of the pioneering doctors in AIDS research, a stand out performance by Julia Roberts (I haven’t seen her in anything this good since 2000’s “Erin Brokovich”), who at a very young age contracted Polio, and is bound to a wheelchair and who joins the fight with Ruffalo. Other relationships that are particularly strong outside of the aforementioned 2 are that of Ruffalo and his lover, who contracts the disease and perpetuates Ruffalo’s fight to find funding for the research needed. That as well as the relationships between himself and the other members of the organization, whose political ideals tend to shift over the course of the film.

I felt like this was a fascinating and well researched glimpse into the AIDS/HIV epidemic and what the early years of the disease looked like through the eyes of its central character. Someone who put his entire life into the cause and did everything he could possibly do that was within his capacity to try and bring AIDS awareness to the people. The ensemble cast were all fanstasic, hence the amount of Emmy nominations it received. Even if it did tend to fall a bit on the over melodramatic side at times (after all, it’s cable programming we’re talking about here). But the story was filled with so much heart, so much energy, and so much passion for its subjects, that I was able to overlook that one criticism. This is one, if you didn’t get a chance to catch it when it first premiered, or are like me and don’t have HBO, that I would encourage you to check out. Especially if you have even the slightest bit of interest in the source material.

Grade: B/B+