Dallas Buyers Club

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on September 19, 2013

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Dear Wendy Cohen
Product Placement

Dear Wendy,

In America, there are plenty of ways to push a product. Your particular job is to use popular films and TV shows, hoping the sight of our heroes lathered in Axe body wash or defending a 7-Eleven will translate into sales. But back in the late 1980s, a Stetson-wearing hustler named Ron Woodroof had a lot more at stake creating new revenue models. In fact, his life depended on it. He sure could have used your help, because he wasn't exactly the ideal candidate to sell new HIV treatments during the AIDS epidemic. Yet that central tension is exactly what makes Dallas Buyers Club so incredibly moving and entertaining.

It starts with a very gaunt looking Matthew McConaughey who does a brilliant job portraying Ron as a cowboy. A straight-up rodeo-loving, womanizing, hard-drinking, queer-hating Texan cowboy. And if that was your brand in 1987, contracting AIDS simply didn't compute. Even as an audience member, who sees Ron for the first time as he's having sex with two women in a bullpen, the fact he must at least be bisexual couldn't help but cross my mind. It's just the way AIDS was advertised for so long. So it's no surprise that in a homophobic South, Ron loses all his friends and business relationships once news gets out about his illness.

From that point, he's in a damage control of Exxon proportions. The doctors only give him 30 days to live, so Ron focuses all his attention on treatments, and finds out that a local hospital is conducting experimental trials for AZT - a drug that seems to have as many side effects as benefits. This is where he meets the transgendered Rayon (Jared Leto), who becomes an unlikely business partner going forward and perfect foil for some of the films best comedic moments.

America has come a long way in understanding AIDS and gay culture, but a plot description like this must still have been a tough sell to advertisers. After all, Ron is no superhero. But in the hands of Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee, Ron's sympathetic moments are balanced out with enough ugly truths for the character to feel like a real person (which, of course, he's based on). There's no heavenly glow around the performance, and his flaws haven't been completely washed out to better appeal to the masses. It's an atypical Hollywood gamble that pays off brilliantly.

Maybe a little too brilliantly, since I was so absorbed in the story, I never even noticed what you were pushing. Sorry.

Sold on everything else,


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