It seems a lot of people had very high hopes for this film. Critics certainly predicted it would have a presence come awards season. Matthew McConaughey definitely had big ambitions as he continues to chase the ever-elusive Oscar predicted for him so many years ago. Most important, audiences had the bar set high in anticipation of a thought-provoking, touching and beautifully acted film. All I can say is, don’t shoot the messenger.
Ron Woodruff (McConaughey) is without question a piece of work. In 1985, he is a fast-living, hard-drinking, promiscuous, recreational drug user in a working-class Texas town. Shortly after a workplace accident lands him in the hospital, he is diagnosed HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. Here’s where things get complicated.
When Woodruff discovers that alternative treatments are more effective for his condition than the current drug AZT, he gets an idea. He decides to import and sell the alternative treatments—not illegal, but not FDA-approved—through a buyers’ club membership system. Woodruff wants to get well, but he also wants to get rich. With the help of an endearing pre-operative transsexual, Rayon (Jaren Leto), and the support of a frustrated doctor, Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), Woodruff goes into business.
The acting is fine. The only performance that truly seems Oscar-worthy is Leto’s snippy, tormented Rayon—the performance is staggering. The problem with the movie is that it’s never really sure what it wants to be. It’s not a film about the little guy triumphing over the evil corporate Goliath. It’s not a gut-wrenching love story about losing someone far too soon. And it’s not a story about the early missteps on every level that inadvertently fueled the AIDS epidemic. In short, it’s not Philadelphia. It’s a 5.