Today marked the release of the trailer and poster for Dallas Buyers Club, the long-touted, awards-buzzy Matthew McConaughey vehicle, wherein the newly ubiquitous, former bongo drummer plays Ron Woodruff, a real-life AIDS victim who began smuggling treatment drugs across the border. Startlingly gaunt, McConnaughey pulled a drastic, Christian-Bale-esque slimdown for the part, as did co-star Jared Leto, who plays Rayon, a transsexual and fellow AIDS patient (reportedly, McConnaughey dropped 38 pounds for the film, while Leto lost 30).
Woodruff’s story, unfolding circa 1986, is indeed a remarkable one, telling of a club that was formed to offer AIDS sufferers pure alternatives to the government-dispersed AZT, which wreaked havoc on the bodies of many who took it. What Woodruff reportedly “started” began to spread very rapidly, with alternative, illegal med clubs cropping up all over the country (you’ll remember that AIDS patients who were forced to become scientists and fight for their own lives were documented last year in the remarkable How to Survive a Plague.)
The poster is disappointingly bland, its only real points of interest being the out-of-focus haze that evokes Texas heat, and the modest effect of the tagline “Dare to Live,” which McConnaughey holds in his fingertips like a pill. Otherwise, this could be a poster for any McConnaughey film, as the actor is surely no stranger to sporting shades and a cowboy hat.
The trailer is another matter altogether. It starts out well, seeming to deliver on the initial, offbeat promise of an AIDS-centric film starring Matthew McConaughey, and featuring Jared Leto in drag. But as the (epic and arduous) clip grinds along, it reaches for the same schmaltzy tropes that every awards-hungry, suffering-for-one’s-art movie does, drumming up the sentiment and dulling out what made people interested in the movie in the first place. What’s more, while the film may well net McConnaughey the Oscar nomination he actually deserved for Magic Mike, it seems important to note that, in a week that’s focused on Miley Cyrus’s mad appropriation of black female codifiers, there’s something slightly icky about a story aiming to expose the struggles of what many considered a “gay disease” being channeled through the accessible filter of a straight, white homophobe. Yes, Woodruff’s story is true; yes, he accomplished great things; yes, it’s refreshing to show that AIDS was/is not some divinely-imposed affliction reserved for homosexuals; and no, I’ve not seen this movie yet. But when one considers the scant number of gay-themed films that actually make it into awards contention, and then takes a look at something like Dallas Buyer’s Club, the notion of your typical straight, pasty, queer-hating southern boy standing as the great deliverer doesn’t exactly sit so well in relation to cinematic progress.
Perhaps the film will achieve the opposite. Perhaps McConnaughey’s gifts as an actor will help form a template for narrow-minded bigots, who should know that we humans all share the same frailty. Perhaps the ripple effect of the Miley backlash (which has gone well beyond being merely about a shallow, tasteless incident) has made me extra sensitive and suspicious. But you can’t help but think: When it comes to offensive on-screen types, we’ve had the magical negro, we’ve had the fabulous GBF, and we’ve had the uptight white lady who liberates the colored kids. Will Dallas Buyers Club finally give us the homophobic, Christlike gay savior? Festival attendees will find out when the movie premieres at TIFF. The rest of us will have to wait until Nov. 1, when Focus Features begins its limited-release run. Watch the trailer for yourself here: