May 23

“The Normal Heart”: Long-Awaited Adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Play

If you have access to HBO, most advance reviews indicate it’s well worth checking out Sunday night’s premiere of The Normal Heart. David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, says, in fact, there are “millions” of reasons to tune in, including, “because ‘The Normal Heart’ seethes with rage, truth and love in every single performance by an A-list cast. You should watch because Larry Kramer’s play is so much more than an agitprop relic from the early years of AIDS — it is a great play that has become an even greater television film.”

There are those who disagree, however, that the TV adaptation is better than the play. David Hinckley, New York Daily News, for example:

…’The Normal Heart’ is most effective in a good stage production, because it seethes with a visceral anger best felt in the physical presence of the actors.
But this new Ryan Murphy adaptation comes close, thanks in large measure to the fury that Mark Ruffalo gives to lead character Ned Weeks…
Weeks becomes the voice of outrage, demanding friends and foes alike acknowledge the urgency of this plague.

Below Wiegand sets up the TV film’s plot, which is based on Kramer’s real-life experiences in the early 1980’s. He also introduces the main characters played by, in order of their characters’ mentions, Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, and Matt Bomer:

Ned Weeks…is an abrasive activist-slash-writer who tries to rally gay men toward awareness of the growing health crisis and lobbies in vain for the New York Times to give the issue appropriate coverage.
Soon enough, the situation is impossible for gay men to ignore, although the straight world would do its damnedest for several years. When Ned urges sexual abstinence as a way of stopping the spread of the so-called ‘gay cancer,’ he may as well be advocating a mass return to the closet by the entire gay population of New York.
He finds a powerful ally in Dr. Emma Brookner…whose childhood battle with polio has left her in a wheelchair as an adult but has also taught her that health crises demand urgent and focused response.
As Weeks steps up pressure on the Times, he meets a lifestyle writer for the paper named Felix Turner…who becomes his lover.

Critics have praised the cast as a whole, with frequent special mentions of Bomer’s performance. Other cast members include Jonathan Groff, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Denis O’Hare, and Joe Mantello.

You can watch the trailer below:

SELECTED REVIEWS

David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle:

[Murphy’s] film, with an adaptation by Kramer, captures the conflicting attitudes and emotions in the New York gay community as indifference and denial turned to panic, anger and despair, but it also recognizes that ‘The Normal Heart’ tells a human story far beyond both its subject matter and the time in which it is set…

It is emotionally raw, harrowing, and a thing of such singular horrific beauty, it will move you, exhaust you and, almost paradoxically, thrill you at the heights television drama can attain.

Chuck Barney, Mercury News: “What [Murphy] delivers is a film with piercing emotional honesty that feels rough and real, intimate and truly full of heart.”

David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun: “…will keep you up for hours in an emotional churn thinking about life, love, loss, death and politics.”