Withering Glance: Much to love about 'Normal Heart'

  • Article by: RICK NELSON and CLAUDE PECK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 23, 2014 - 2:03 PM

Matt Bomer and Mark Ruffalo in “The Normal Heart” on HBO.

Photo: Jojo Whilden • HBO,

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Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more.


CP: The 1980s arrival of AIDS in Minnesota was horrible enough. I can hardly imagine what it was like for New Yorkers.


RN: On Sunday, HBO is giving America a sense of the devastation with a film version of Larry Kramer’s politically charged 1985 play “The Normal Heart.”


CP: I found the movie, directed by Ryan Murphy (“Glee”), to be both powerful and inconsistent. It’s Kramer’s semi-autobiographical story of the onset of what at first was called “gay cancer” and how it mobilized him and other gay New Yorkers in the early ’80s. It deserves a large audience.


RN: Absolutely. “The Normal Heart” illuminates the deep-seated homophobia of the early 1980s in the same way “Mad Men” immerses its viewers in 1960s misogyny and racism. Fortunately, Kramer, who also penned the screenplay, manages to toss in a few much-needed laughs. As when an assistant to Ed Koch insists that the mayor isn’t gay, and Jim Parsons — in a brilliant performance — blurts out, “Oh, come on, Blanche.”


CP: You selected one of maybe two funny moments. It’s a grim spectacle, as the KS lesions proliferate and the bodies pile up.


RN: And almost no one lifts a finger to help. Not the government, not the gay community, not the scientific establishment, not the media. A gruesome scene involving the cruelty of an airline pilot, an orderly and a funeral director was particularly shattering. Thirty years later, I’m grateful for Kramer’s volcanic anger. He’s a national hero.


CP: Who also had a wantonly destructive side.


RN: I appreciate how Kramer doesn’t sugarcoat his warts-and-all fictional stand-in, portrayed in the film by Mark Ruffalo. He’s deeply unpleasant one minute, super-mensch the next.


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