In the Italian countryside that director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) adores, 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is in the middle of a summer about which a working adult can only dream: aimless bike rides, dinner on the patio, trysts under the trees, a secret swimming hole, an ’80s dance party. It is the ’80s, in Call Me By Your Name — the perfectly costumed ’80s, the era into which Armie Hammer should have been born.
Hammer, perfectly preppy, plays Oliver, the grad student whom Elio’s professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) has chosen to study with this summer. Oliver is assured but not cocky; he lives on his own schedule and tosses off a nonchalant “later” every time he leaves a room, but he’s also a scholar and, in a scene that became a delightful meme before the movie was in wide release, an unselfconscious dancer. He annoys Elio — in exactly the way a person is annoying when you’re trying not to be attracted to them.
Chalamet is so convincing a teen that he played one twice last year (see also: Lady Bird). Hammer, in his early 30s, doesn’t look his character’s 24, which makes the much-discussed age difference between the two seem larger than it is. But Oliver, for much of the movie, is an object of adoration, as perfectly chiseled as the old statues he and Professor Perlman study.
It isn’t until Oliver accepts Elio’s interest that his character stretches out of the terse shape in which he holds himself. He stops being all angles and starts to curve, bending, making a space for Elio in his life, even if only for a time.
What makes this story so affecting is simple: It belongs to Elio. It belongs to Elio in a way that is both gentle and precise; James Ivory’s screenplay (based on the book by Andre Aciman) is rich with fits and starts of dialogue, things unsaid, and perfect set pieces both romantic and uncomfortable. It isn’t concerned with definitions but with exploration — with the process of learning more about yourself, the person you might be and the people who help you figure that out.
Call Me By Your Name is a languid, summery film, all aimless days and short shorts, dinner guests and occasional nods to privilege. Guadagnino is in no rush; his film builds slowly and gently to a conclusion that seems inevitable. But that same conclusion deepens the entire film: It isn’t just about discovery, love, experience, a defining relationship. It’s also, very deeply, about kindness and acceptance.
In a breathtakingly moving yet restrained speech, Stuhlbarg’s character shows his hand — his and the movie’s. This transformative scene snaps all Guadagnino’s dreaminess into focus and gives Elio something to hold onto. His father’s honesty is part gift and part heartbreak.
There are few other cinematic moments in which parents and children see each other so clearly. Call Me By Your Name doesn’t insist on your attention for much of its two-hour running length; it lets you fall in and out, its scenes glazed with a nostalgia that almost encourages personal reminisces. But the end demands that you watch, and witness, and feel. ■