At first glance, “Call Me By Your Name,” is a pretty standard coming-of-age story. Yes, its backdrop, an Italian summer, is absolutely stunning, but on the surface, the emo/intellectual nature of its lead is nothing we haven’t seen before. But as Elio (Timothée Chalamet) learns, first impressions aren’t everything.
This is the story of Elio Perlman, a young man who spends his summers (and a few other seasons) in Italy while his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) conducts archeological research.
This particular summer, 1983, Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) has a grad student, Oliver (Armie Hammer) in Italy assisting with his work.
Elio is clearly intrigued by Oliver from the start, but instead of interest, what comes across is an ongoing, highly intellectual battle of wits (albeit a friendly one).
This movie could easily (and I imagine to some it still does) come off as pretentious. What redeems it (in my opinion) is that it becomes quite clear that any snobbish behavior by Elio and Oliver is a pretense to mask their insecurities.
Of course, given their situations—Elio is a young man still very much discovering who he is and Oliver may be slightly older and more self-aware, but he is still a gay man in the 1980s—their cautiousness is understandable and heartbreaking.
Eventually, the pretentiousness gives way to familiarity and freedom. However we, the audience, know our own history and that although Elio has an incredibly supportive family, (and Mr. Stuhlbarg steals the show with a beautiful speech) this is still the 1980s, and Elio and Oliver’s relationship can only end one way.
To be fully honest, I did not expect to connect to this movie the way I did. I had heard it was beautiful and I expected to enjoy and appreciated it, but the universal connection that this story was able to achieve is truly remarkable.
“Call Me By Your Name” is an intentionally slow burn that is dripping with as much innuendo as this sentence and it’s beautiful, truly. Because despite the inevitable, heartbreaking conclusion, there is joy, there is hope, and there is (if only for Elio) acceptance.