reviewed by Tom-Tom
I don’t know what I expected from this movie but it sure blew my expectations away in about the first 20 minutes. I knew it was a film having to do with AIDS but nothing more than that. It is a film with a strong message which isn’t preached to the audience but shown in all its ugly glory. It takes place in the mid to late 1980’s when AIDS was seen only as a virus affecting homosexuals and drug users. Ron Woodruff, played with charming passion by a skin and bones Matthew McConaughey is an electrician for a rodeo. He’s a gambler and a player. The film opens with him having a three way with blond and brunette rodeo groupies near a stable where the mad bulls are kept. Later, after receiving an electric shock he wakes up in the hospital and is told by doctors who don masks upon approaching him that he has tested positive for HIV. His white blood cell counts are deathly low and it is a miracle that he is even alive. The doctor gives him 30 days to live. A man of the age, he also associates the disease only with homosexuality and berates the doctors dropping all matter of homophobia charged profanity. Ron heads to the library to check out books, magazines and microfiches of research done about the disease and all the possible cures. In Mexico, Japan, Israel, France, Germany, and other places, there are drugs which seem to have made possible progress with the disease. The other thing which seems to be effective in the States is AZT with a doctor played by Jennifer Garner doesn’t seem to like. Ron meets up with her to demand the drug and is told he would either be given a placebo or the real thing and there would be no way to know which he had. “You wanna give dyin’ people a sugar pill?” he asks. The character of Ron has joined the Pantheon of movie screen personalities which despite being xenophobic, crass, ill mannered, and homophobic still engender some affection for viewers for stubbornly remaining who they are. Jack Nicholson’s OCD novelist in “As Good as it Gets” and Billy Bob Thornton’s “Bad Santa” spring to mind as comparable. Driven into a corner, Ron heads to Mexico presumably to die. He meets a bearded hippie-like ex-doctor who’s had his license revoked working in a “shithole” clinic in Ron’s words. The practical advice concentrating on building up the body’s immune system and fighting the symptoms rather than the disease itself leads Ron to outlive the original 30 day death sentence given to him by the previous doctor.
Along the way, Ron meets Jared Leto’s character Rayon, a rather fetching transvestite with whom he moves beyond surviving but in making a profit out of helping others get the same “cure” as Ron. The two become a hilarious “straight man, funny man” pair gatecrashing support circles in offering their own treatments at a price. At every turn he is impeded in his efforts by immigration and FDA officials which he charms, tricks, bribes, etc. with all sorts of costumes, disguises, and lies. He’s such a dynamic personality and his chemistry with Rayon is so fun to watch. I perhaps expected a downplayed, melancholy film but got a super charged crusade by a man determined to live and to make a profit at helping others while dodging the authorities with every loophole he and his associates could find. The equally stubborn nature of the FDA in disallowing non-toxic herbal drugs is as relevant today as it was then. This is a great film with bad-ass determined characters surviving in courageous and resourceful ways. The nearly 2 hours fly on by with plenty of laughs and jaw dropping incredulity at the versatility of its appealing characters.