Hot Take: It’s a coming of age film but there’s an uncomfortable age difference between the two love interests. It’s over long at 132 minutes and verbose in its embrace of young love and experimentation.
I remember watching Luca Guadagnino’s last film A Bigger Splash and thinking how overindulgent it was. His latest, the critically acclaimed coming of age Call Me By Your Name, wears the overindulgent monicker like a badge of honor. There’s also the age difference between Timothee Chalamet’s 17-year-old Elio and Armie Hammer’s Oliver whose age is never identified but even if the 31-year-old Hammer is portraying someone 5 years younger than his actual age, that’s still a 9 year difference between the two romantically linked leads. Sexual ambiguity is abound here also as the young Elio has sexual encounters with man, woman and fruit (yes… peach to be more precise) throughout this 132 minute sexual journey.
The way Guadagnino paints Elio’s upbringing, it’s easy to overlook his age. From affluent, cultured parents — his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor who specializes in Greco-Roman culture and his mother (Amira Casar) is a translator — Elio’s intellectual nature and sophisticated demeanor masks his innocence and his inexperience in affairs of the heart. Elio doesn’t connect with Oliver right away but it’s obvious he’s attracted to Oliver in some way. Even as Elio finds a mutual attraction with Marzia (Esther Garrel), a girl more in his age range, the lingering looks and interactions Elio and Oliver share foreshadow the inevitable. Here’s where Guadagnino’s overindulgence rears its ugly head as each scene is milked for everything it has. Especially that peach scene. (The peach scene! That poor, unsuspecting peach!)
While the budding love affair between Elio and Oliver has an awkward tenderness about it, there’s a very uneasy predatory feeling here as its obvious there’s a significant age difference between the two. Also, at 17, it’s unusual to see parents having such an easy time with Elio and Oliver’s obvious relationship. The Italian countryside does deserve a mention here, though, as it is almost a character in itself. That being said, there’s something that doesn’t quite work for me with Call Me By Your Name. From the novel, the age of Hammer’s Oliver is 24 which creates a 7 year gap between the main characters. Maybe it’s just the timing of it all and a heightened sensitivity to any sexual impropriety but it’s unaddressed and squeamish at times. It’s not foreign territory for Guadagnino, either, whose last film featured a love affair between Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who were 27 years apart in age.
Critically, Call Me By Your Name has been met with heaps of praise. Despite nearly universal praise, I’ll have to offer a contrarian stance as, for me, the film never rises much above mediocrity and while it approaches sexual ambiguity head on, it avoids a more controversial topic of the age of consent and acceptability when it comes to age differences between what some might consider an adult and a minor. It’s dicey but the film treats it as a norm and that is a disservice to the audience as a whole.
Luca Guadagnino captures desire and Italy with great passion and detail.
Verbose and overindulgent, it might be too much for some.