Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician, womanizer, and drug addict whose life is overturned when he’s diagnosed as HIV-positive. Told he has AIDS and only a month–to six months at best—to live, Woodroof begins smuggling unapproved pharmaceutical drugs into Texas after finding they improve his symptoms. He distributed them to fellow AIDS patients by establishing the “Dallas Buyers Club” while confronting opposition—i.e., the barriers of a bureaucracy made worse by a “gay” disease—from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“It is not possible in less than two hours to give a complete panorama of the chaos in the mid-eighties, when there was no consensus on what actually caused AIDS, how it was transmitted, whether and why it was limited to certain groups,” said Glenn Kenny in his review of the movie. That is the touching side of this film. But there are other noteworthy aspects as well.
On Oscars night, Dallas Buyers Club won three of the six Academy Awards for which it was nominated. Everyone seems to have something to say about this unlikely Hollywood blockbuster that took twenty years to make. The movie, its long, hard road to the big screen, the intriguing man who inspired the story, and the social conversation stirred up by its subject matter is curing “writer’s block” for every critics, columnists and bloggers, who are now all fighting for space on entertainment, review pages, and blogosphere.
Producer Robbie Brenner had tried in vain to sell the idea of this movie since the early 1990s. “We love the script,” backers told her and the film’s original screenwriter, Craig Borten, over and over again, “we just can’t put up the money for a movie about a man dying of AIDS.”
Philadelphia, a movie of the early 90’s also about AIDS, had been a huge hit and even won Tom Hanks the Best Actor Award, but the hero of that film was a sympathetic man wrongly fired for the disease, not a cynical rogue who went around insulting people.
After a decade of pounding the pavement, with names like Brad Pitt on board then changing their minds and going on to other projects, they had heard this rejection line so many times, Borten began to defend those who walked away, empathetically saying he “couldn’t blame them,” since this story’s main character, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), is “a racist homophobe with AIDS who befriends a man who dresses as a woman.”
Of course, it’s a dream come true for actor Matthew McConaughey. In 2011, nearly two decades since original screenplay began its journey into and out of the hands of Hollywood A-listers, the “orphaned” project finally found a home when McConaughey, an actor looking for the role of a lifetime (his last movie Surfer, Dude, was a far cry from Oscar material) embraced it with what an L.A. Times reporter calls “a level of intense commitment, the kind that comes from wanting people to see you differently.”
That was three years ago. He was holding a beer then. He’s holding an Oscar now.