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.


CP: Ruffalo is better at the mensch-y side than the monumentally obnoxious and disagreeable part of Kramer’s makeup.


RN: Matt Bomer is heartbreaking as a New York Times style reporter looking for love in a loveless city. His physical transformation is astonishing and agonizing.


CP: Murphy’s movie seems at times like a patchwork of Emmy-attractive big scenes for its formidable cast.


RN: Agreed.


CP: The one where Joe Mantello’s character has a real-time nervous breakdown? Unforgettable. Ditto a scene with Ned Weeks’ rich lawyer brother, played by Alfred Molina.


RN: That final sibling interplay is where I reached for the Puffs Plus. I love Julia Roberts in pretty much anything — OK, maybe not “Stepmom” — and I’m totally into her here as a take-no-prisoners physician on the epidemic’s front lines.


CP: After “August: Osage County,” she is two for two in the “big can of whoop-ass” category. If this movie moves you, please also see “How to Survive a Plague.”


RN: Then take a peek at “Longtime Companion” on YouTube. Still a tear-jerker, 25 years later.


E-mail: witheringglance@startribune.com

Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib