Dramatic biographies or Oscar bait: ¿Por qué no los dos?


McConaughey, Garner, and Leto give great performances in this movie. The role isn’t that far outside of McConaughey’s comfort zone: Ron Woodruff’s temper seems to always be at a slight simmer and he seems to be considering what to say next at all times, like many of the actor’s characters. But it is rare to see McConaughey as such a dynamic character. Woodruff changes and grows over the course of the film (compared to characters in romantic comedies, or as the titular Killer Joe (2011), or in Sahara (2005), or the club owner in Magic Mike (2012), or anything else, really). It is a fascinating character study.

I don’t have a ton to say about this movie. It evokes anger at how the AIDS epidemic was handled at the institutional and societal level in the United States. It evokes anger about our modern profit-driven healthcare system. It evokes fear about death and failing health. It’s a hard watch, but I was wholly engrossed from start to finish.

We did a mini-vacation in the middle of 2013, with Natalie registered for a week of yoga training in the small southern Ohio town of Yellow Springs. It is a beautiful town in a beautiful part of the state, but it also is a very short drive away from infinite cornfields. That’s Ohio for ya, though.

Every available hotel room close to Yellow Springs was booked. Yellow Spring is a quirky tourist spot to my understanding, especially in warm weather months. That tracks with our experience, in which there was a ton of foot traffic around the little downtown area. We stayed at a hotel in Springfield, which is about 30 minutes north. Because Natalie’s days were spoken for, I was on my own to do whatever until her classes ended each day.

I remember exhausting my usual activities pretty quickly. There was a gaming store, and I spent as long there as I could. Then I found every antique and used bookstore and looked at every item for sale. Then I walked around for a while and got an ice cream. Then I realized that I had multiple days left, so I drank a lot of beer and wine. That’s my standard vacation routine. A friend drove over from Columbus on one of the days and we played cards all day, which was awesome. Another day there was a farmer’s market a block away from the hotel, and that gave me another hour or two of activity.

It’s just hard for me to be still. I’m twitchy by nature and massively anxious, things that I’ve worked on with therapists and psychiatrists and exercise. But the best-case scenario is always mitigation, not cessation. So when I’m all alone with my thoughts, I’m fuckin’ climbing the walls. I’m grateful that my manic episodes are on the milder end, else who knows where I’d be by now.

On a different topic,  it is amazing how far phone technology has come and how it continues to evolve. In 2013, I had an iPhone that was already multiple models behind, and our data plan was pretty minimal. But it also feels like a lifetime ago because the impulse was not to immediately grab the phone for every single thing that came up. Nowadays I have to stop myself from consulting the web for every piece of trivia or any map or weather or whatever. But in 2013, that wasn’t the case. So one evening in Yellow Springs, we had a recommendation for a fun vegetarian restaurant. We found what we thought was the place, and we were put on a waitlist for about an hour and a half. We walked around a bit, had a couple of cocktails at the bar, and were finally seated in a really stuffy dining room. The place had very continental vibes with bright white tablecloths and servers in formal attire, which felt completely out of whack with what we’d expected. Then we saw the menu, which was also all continental cuisine, and we realized that we’d fucked up. But up to that moment, it didn’t dawn on us to check our phones or look at a menu beforehand. We waited patiently for almost two hours at the wrong restaurant. So we finished our drinks, paid our check, and left without having a meal.

Thankfully we walked further up a side street and finally found the vegetarian place. It had local art on the walls, chipped booths, a general granola vibe, and a menu that was all interesting veg food. There were beet soups and quinoa salads and fresh bread and juices. We had a lovely time once we got there, and the hours spent waiting in the French place became just a footnote on a nice evening.

I think about memories like that now, though, and wonder how I’ve become more impatient and callous since then. I think about how I’d behave now in that situation, and I’d probably just double down and stick with the French place, ordering the only veg item on the menu (a side salad) and grousing the whole time. Or we’d leave there and I’d be frustrated and just insist on driving back to the hotel, and we’d never find the quirky place and would instead eat butt-ass Sheetz subs while watching TV in the hotel room.

What I’m getting at, to tie this back to Dallas Buyers Club, is that we change over time, but we don’t change solely for the better. Life isn’t light switches with good on one side and bad on the other. One can become more enlightened and improved in ten ways and become devolved and retrograde in ten others. Ron Woodruff helped get medical aid to a ton of people who had fallen through the cracks of society. This was a very good thing. But he did it to help himself medically and financially: the medical access for other people was a way to make his medication pipeline quasi-legal. His character is a bad person who falls sideways into good deeds. The amount of good seemingly outweighed the bad, but we shouldn’t wait to find out that future generations validated our behavior.

All we really have is now, so maybe being a little more mindful is a good habit to have. How have I gotten better in the past decade? How have I gotten worse? Can I improve the places where I’ve slid?


Other 2013 candidates: Only Lovers Left Alive; The Conjuring; The Counselor


I turn 40 in December. To commemorate the milestone, I’m writing 40 short biographical essays pertaining to a movie per year of my life.