Congratulations. Now fuck off and go back to your bed.
Relax, I don’t bite. I guess you’re handsome, in a Texas, hick, white trash, dumb kind of way.
Get the fuck out of here, whatever you are, before I kick you in the fucking face.
Perhaps what originally drew me to the Dallas Buyers Club ended in becoming its least interesting aspect. Unhealthy appearances faded into the background, eclipsed by a heart wrenching story of entrepreneurial self-help and, ultimately, friendship. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto - an oft forgotten actor - give such strong performances that one forgets their radical weight loss; their transformations from teenage pinups on opposite ends of the spectrum to AIDs-infected Texans becomes almost irrelevant. I forgot that McConaughey was anyone other than a slicked-back, greasy, moustached electrician. Leto transformed equally successfully; Rayon became tragically real with little more than one flutter of her thick lashes.
The basic premise of the film is simple; Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is told by doctors in 1985 that he has only 30 days to live, having been infected with HIV from unprotected heterosexual sex some years prior. Initially homophobic and living in a time bombed sense of denial, Woodroof still ceases to succumb to his fate. After meeting Rayon (Leto), a similarly afflicted transgender woman, Ron begins to embrace the gay community he once so fervently lambasted and creates his ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, distributing life enriching drugs unapproved by the FDA.
One might think the outcome of such a film is obvious: Woodroof will sell his drugs and, eventually, die. This is true, but the Dallas Buyers Club is so much more than that. It is about rejection, forced or inflicted on others; self help; love, platonic or otherwise. It delves deep into the stigma surrounding the AIDs phenomenon of the mid 1980s, especially among uneducated men and women who were truly ignorant of most of its causes. Woodroof is a classic case here; his ‘bare-backing’ women he knows nothing about is presented concurrently with the overtly masculine bare-backing rodeo. Depicted as a solely heterosexual man - although friends of the man himself protest that he was in-fact openly bisexual - Ron is obtuse that he could so simply be cursed with a ‘faggot’ disease. His inherent, almost unintentional homophobia is so blinding that his friendship with Rayon becomes all the more admirable.
As McConaughey’s homophobic slurs garner shocked laughter, Rayon’s story never does. She is desperate for love and acceptance, but has been rejected from her body in birth, life and death and is thus without a core; as Ron tries to appreciate his final years, Rayon sinks deeper and more irretrievably into a vacuous world filled only with drugs. Yet though her life may lack depth, she as a character does not. Arguably one of Leto’s most powerful scenes, wherein Rayon visits her father to ask for money, brought more than one tear from my eyes. The nervous shame in her voice, and the men’s clothes that swamp her so as not to ‘embarrass’ her father are quietly, shyly touching. Albeit in different ways, both Ron and Rayon are obsessed with appearances; Woodroof with maintaining one of heteronormative masculinity and Rayon with hiding the dark bruises all over her body with pristinely immaculate makeup. Her desperate need to enter heaven as a ‘beautiful angel’ - perhaps what she never saw herself as in life - is heartbreaking.
Some reviews have called Rayon a ‘Marc Bolan-esque drag queen’; this, she isn’t. Leto argued against the director’s wish to glamorise the character; he wanted to play her simply as he believed her to be - as a man who wanted to live his life as a woman. ‘If they wanted anything drag queen-y, or anything glam, I wasn’t the person for that part’, he has stated. Leto has been heckled and dismissed more than once for being a straight man playing a transgender character, purportedly depriving trans actors of such a delicate part. He has been criticised for ‘tapping into every trans taboo there is’ in his portrayal of Rayon. I wonder if such critics watched the right film.
Though it is a sad truth, in reality there are very few male or female transgender actors in Hollywood. Aside from Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black), I can name none that have actually featured in mainstream productions. So, one must wonder whether if the part would have gained such gravity had it gone to an unknown actor, albeit a transgender one. Yes, they would truly understand how it is to be trans - but Leto engrossed himself so heavily in the part that he cannot be criticised for distance. During the span of filming, Leto was Rayon; he point blank refused to break character, so much so that to him, she became a ‘real person’. Those who castigate him for portraying someone he is not seem to forget that, after all, he is acting. As Leto himself queried to a heckler who shouted that ‘transmisogyny does not deserve an award’, ‘because I’m a man I don’t deserve to play that part?’ - he went on to wonder whether that meant actors who happened to be gay or lesbian could not play straight parts; it was all part of an ‘opportunity to turn the tables and explore parts of that art.’ Rightly so.
Thus the Dallas Buyers Club becomes less about Woodroof’s never-ending battle with the tyrannical FDA and more of a character study. As Ron’s physical being begins to falter, his mental one grows boundlessly, both in accepting a friendship with Rayon and in living selflessly - for a greater good. Though Rayon could not defeat her demons, Woodroof manages to. By the time of his death, he realises that not only does the world have something to teach him about survival, but the community he once spat on do, too. It is friendship, ultimately, that knows no bounds.
I met somebody who’s been very kind to me, and I’d like to repay that debt.