Call Me by Your Name, a coming-of-age gay love story set in the early ‘80s, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time on Thursday evening — and was greeted with a standing ovation of a sort that makes me think it will be in serious contention for this year’s festival audience award, which historically has been a launching-pad into the best picture Oscar race.
Adapted, from Andre Aciman‘s 2007 novel of the same name, by James Ivory, and directed by Luca Guadagnino, the film stars Timothee Chalamet as a 17-year-old summering in Italy with his parents, and Armie Hammer as an older house guest with whom a romance blossoms. The film premiered at Sundance, screened at Berlin en route to Toronto and will be released by Sony Classics on Nov. 24.
Call Me by Your Name has a lot going for it. First and foremost, it features first-rate contributions — and, if all goes well, could contend for Oscars — virtually across the board, from writing and directing to cinematography to acting (not just for Chalamet and Hammer, but also for Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays the father of Chalamet’s character and who could get a best supporting actor nom on the basis of his final scene alone). Anyone who has seen Guadagnino’s 2009 I Am Love knows that he does not settle for anything less than the best. And, at a moment when the Trump administration is making moves to roll back gay rights, a vote for this film could be seen as standing up for equality.
But the film also could run into some headwinds. None of the characters, academics living abroad, seem to actually work for a living, and this already has led to some murmurs of “Moonlight for rich white folks.” Additionally, some eyebrows may be raised about the apparent age-difference between the two young lovers; the book suggests they are 17 and 24, respectively, but there’s actually a 10-year gap between the actors, which could make the relationship seem a bit inappropriate to some. And, at 130 minutes, the film can feel a bit long.
At the end of the day, a lot will have to do with how the rest of the field fills out and with how Sony Classics campaigns for this movie. If Oscar noms were tomorrow, I am convinced that the film would get a best picture nomination — but they’re not, and there’s still time for more conventional Academy movies to come along and potentially displace it. Also, the film is so much a two-hander that it’s hard to imagine Chalamet and Hammer not both being pushed as leads, and even though the lead actor category is looking a bit thin this year, one wonders if they might not undermine each other’s prospects.
But, for now, at least, Call Me by Your Name is the toast of Toronto, and has set a high bar for its competition.