Even while we are in 2019, the power of 20-gay-teen is still all around us; just this past weekend, the GLAAD awards began (there is still another ceremony to be had to May) in which a record-breaking ten films were nominated for outstanding film – including '1985' in the Limited Release category.. And that is a really exciting thing - proving gay stories are not only needed in media, but craved.
Transporting us back to 1985, Adrian (Cory Michael Smith, TVs ‘Gotham’, ‘First Man’) returns to Texas for the holidays after being in New York for three years. He comes back to reconnect with his religious mother and father as well as his young brother. Adrian is hoping to come out, as he has just been diagnosed with AIDS. While in town he also is hoping to reconnect with his best friend Carly (Jamie Chung, ‘Big Hero 6’, ‘Office Christmas Party’), but troubles in their relationship resurface.
Across the board, the performances are fantastic. Starting with Cory Michael Smith, you really feel his character's struggle between his secret and coping with the fact that this will likely be his last Christmas. You instantly connect with the character and never loose that connection throughout the entire run time. His mother, played by Virginia Madsen (‘Joy’, ‘Better Watch Out’), is really good here; she is the mum who knows her son's secret without being told while dealing with her own religious values. The father is played by Michael Chiklis (2005's ‘Fantastic Four’, ‘The Do-Over’) and again he is quite good, his character has been in the military and likes sports and beer. His youngest son (Aidan Langford) has transitioned from being interested in basketball to being interested in musical theatre, while he also suspects that Adrian has a secret. There is an extremely emotional scene where Adrian and his father sit down and talk, and it shows both sides so perfectly. Cory Michael Smith doesn’t have a lot of lines in the scene, but just the emotion in his face is phenomenal.
The film is filmed in black and white and for me it never felt like a gimmick, it wasn’t really until after that I really thought about it. It does very much help to ground the film and help make it feel much more realistic. Another positive is the run time - there are so many films like this that overstay their welcome, but clocking in at 85 minutes, '1985' get its point across without ever feeling pretentious or tedious.
Across the board, the performances are fantastic. You really feel Cory Michael Smith's character's struggle between his secret and coping with the fact that this will likely be his last Christmas.
One of the movie's massive pros is the way it handles being gay and having AIDS. While it's clear the film is using it as a talking and selling point, it never feels forced. While yas, the "gay" thing yas is a part of the plot, but at the core the story is a man going through an illness and the pain of having to tell his family, and knowing this is one of the last times he will see them before he passes. I think that as soon as it's clear a lead character is gay in a film, it’s no longer a movie, it’s a movement and defining a group of people. For example ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ or ‘The Notebook’ aren’t films that define illness, they are films that make your mum cry. So change it to a gay story and boom, it seems people see it as a movement. But thankfully thanks to films like ‘1985’, we are slowly moving away from that thinking, which is extremely exciting.
Adrian feels a strong connection to his brother, Andrew, who seems to being going the same path sexuality-wise, and really wants to be there for him since he hasn’t been in the past, and their scenes where some of the strongest in the film. The ending is quite a beautiful message of hope for the future of the community.
Overall, ‘1985’ gives an interesting look at a past we seem to be forgetting; AIDS is something that affects the gay community, and I’m glad director Yen Tan (‘Pit Stop’, ‘Ciao’) is putting that back into people's minds. While personally the film didn’t move me as emotionally as it might for others, there is no denying it’s a great film thanks to its performances.