The 1980’s were known for a lot of things; bad hair cuts, L.A. Gear shoes, Alf, and The California Raisins. All those things are happy-go-lucky, however the 80’s was also known for something more sensitive, HIV/AIDS.
Dallas Buyers Club is the incredible true story (ah ha!) of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), a sleazy Rodeo-junky who’s just along for the ride, making his money where he can, and how he contracts the AIDS virus and his fight to stay alive. The first scene in the film is Woodruff, at a rodeo, having a three-way with a woman and another man. It’s this scene that sets the stage for the rest of the film, as we’re clued in just how Ron contracted the virus to begin with. An accident where Woodruff works leads to him going to the hospital and being told that he indeed does have the virus and that there’s not a whole lot the doctor’s can do for him. Woodruff doesn’t take his doctor’s (Jennifer Gardner) to stay in the hospital because they can “make him comfortable”, he opts to fight for his life and it’s the people’s lives he makes a difference in that really makes the movie shine. The title of the film refers to a club Woodruff establishes in Dallas for HIV positive men and women where they can pay a one time price and receive non-FDC approved medication.
The film features two outstanding performances by McConaughey and Jared Leto (you may know him better as the front man for the alt-rock band 30 Seconds to Mars). McConaughey has been on a roll lately with performances last year with Magic Mike and Mud, this year with The Wolf of Wall Street; so it’s no surprise that McConaughey dominates the screen here. Reportedly, McConaughey lost over 50lbs for the role of Woodruff and it shows. He’s nearly unrecognizable as a skin-and-bones cowboy with broad shoulders. However, it’s Leto’s performance as the transvestite Rayon, a poor soul who is just looking for a friend. Leto is completely unrecognizable in his role, and if you didn’t know it was him I’d doubt you’d be able to tell. His portrayal as a man who just wants to be loved – whether by his father, Rayon, or anyone who will listen – is utterly flawless. The scene where Rayon dresses in men’s clothes – for the first time in the film – and goes to ask his father for money is heartbreaking simply because it’s genuine.
The theme of the film is fighting for survival and who you impact during that fight. Woodruff goes from surly broke loner asshole to AIDS infected hero. Ron’s fight against the FDC in his twilight years only magnifies the protagonist mentality he personifies in the film. The film has the sort of happy ending that you’re used to seeing in Hollywood all the while you know that Woodruff dies in the end.
McConaughey and Leto will certainly get Academy Award nominations out of this, but it’s the story they both tell that leaves its greatest impact.