Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

November 19, 2013

CALLERI: 'Dallas Buyers Club' looks at a different facet of the AIDS epidemic


Niagara Gazette — “Dallas Buyers Club” is based on a true story. Woodruff was an actual person and his behavior, while certainly elevated for questionable entertainment value, is rooted in what’s presented as history. Not only was he alleged eye-candy to women, but he was also a classic homophobe and racist.

After he was told that hopeful anti-AIDS drugs could not clear Food And Drug Administration protocols and hurdles, and while continuing to scorn the so-called gay lifestyle, Woodruff started smuggling in illegal medication from Mexico, which he sold to gay men through his buyers club. He even went to Japan. These anti-AIDS pill clubs, which charged dues to evade federal regulations, also existed in other cities across America, a fact downplayed in the film. You would think they didn’t communicate with each other.

Woodruff quickly became popular, rich and regionally famous in his new persona as a battler against pharmaceutical companies, the medical establishment and the United States government.

Very quickly, the film establishes its central character. Already alarmingly thin, he’s first seen having sex in a holding pen at a rodeo. There are no two ways about it, the guy’s a drunken pig. Woodruff dismisses the AIDS diagnosis, and he rejects his impending death. Unable to procure the drugs he thinks will help him, he turns to a shady doctor in Mexico (played by a grizzled Griffin Dunne). Woodruff soon becomes a medicinal guardian angel for Dallas homosexuals who have AIDS. He also uses the pills he sells, and his own health improves greatly.

The movie also falters because of the tone-deaf screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. Facts skate superficially across a pond of breathless heroics. We get the gist of Woodruff’s fight, but not the depth.

We also get caper comedy, which undercuts the seriousness of the truth about the early years of AIDS. For this movie, the homophobic politics and the sociological hand-wringing of the 1980s might as well have happened on the moon.

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