Hollywood has been rocked for months by reports of sexual misconduct, but evidently there is no bad time to release a major motion picture about a gauzy romance between an adult man and a teenage boy.
The Sony Pictures Classics film “Call Me By Your Name” has been generating Oscar buzz since Monday after picking up three Golden Globe nominations, including one for best motion picture-drama, amid rave reviews.
The accolades come even though the film’s premise — a relationship between a 17-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man — strikes its detractors as “somewhat creepy” at best and a “pedophile fantasy” at worst.
Defenders of “Call Me By Your Name” are quick to point out that the love affair is consensual and wouldn’t be illegal, given that the drama takes place in Italy, where the age of consent is 16.
Does that make it OK? Not to Gabe Hoffman, co-producer of “An Open Secret,” a 2014 documentary about child sexual abuse in Hollywood.
“We think it’s at least questionable,” said Mr. Hoffman, “and at worst glorifying pedophilia.”
Actor Corey Feldman, who has said for years that he was sexually molested as a young teenager in Hollywood, erupted on Twitter after being told that the movie didn’t include “child grooming.”
“Really? Have U seen it? What’s it about then? How do U justify a grown man starting a relationship w someone’s child?” asked Mr. Feldman.
He cited the film’s “stellar reviews,” which is no exaggeration. Released in select theaters Nov. 28 to build momentum for a broader release during awards season, the movie has earned a 98 percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and 90 percent from audiences, with reviewers raving about its screenplay by previous Academy Award nominee James Ivory.
“[Director] Luca Guadagnino’s tale of budding gay romance in 1980s Italy is one of the most mesmerizing films of the year,” said David Sims of The Atlantic.
Said the Newark Star-Ledger’s Stephen Whitty: “There is no sin, it insists. There is just joy — and whether you find that in a cold glass of apricot juice or the warm embrace of a village beauty should matter to no one but you.”
The timing is another story. Reports of sexual misconduct have continued to riddle Hollywood since the explosive accusations of now-disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein broke in October.
A dozen men have been accused of inappropriate behavior with underage girls and boys — the age of consent in California is 18. The most visible was actor Kevin Spacey, who was accused of making sexual advances at a party toward Anthony Rapp, then 14.
In a Nov. 10 essay in Medium, actor Anthony Edwards of “ER” accused writer/director Gary Goddard of molesting him when he was 15, which a spokesman for Mr. Goddard has “unequivocally” denied.
Shortly thereafter, former child actor Bret Douglas Nighman said he was there when Mr. Goddard molested the teenage Mr. Edwards while the two young performers were part of a theater touring production.
Actress Aurora Perrineau filed a police report last month accusing “Girls” writer Murray Miller of sexually assaulting her when she was 17, which he has denied, according to Daily Variety.
The movie’s love story is depicted as mutual, not coerced, but it still strikes critics as tone deaf, given the ongoing public alarm over sexual misconduct.
“Perhaps we can, at least, agree that maybe promoting a movie about a 25-year-old man seducing a 17-year-old boy is not exactly wise in light of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and a dozen other Hollywood A-listers?” Paul Bois asked in The Daily Wire. “Apparently not.”
National Review’s Armond White called the film’s release “strikingly mistimed,” while New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane made the case that the timing of the “erotic triumph” couldn’t be better.
“The film’s release could not be more propitious,” Mr. Lane said. “So assailed are we by reports of harmful pleasures, and of the coercive male will being imposed through lust, that it comes as a relief to be reminded, in such style, of consensual joy.”
Mr. White disagreed. “At this moment of moral and sexual chaos, in which famous men are punished for aggressively acting on their sexual instinct — the same libidinous behavior idealized in countless ads and movies — Call Me by Your Name oddly seems morally evasive,” he said. “It hedges around reckless behavior.”
Another source of contention centers on the actors. The teenager is played by Timothee Chalamet, a 20-year-old who arguably could pass for younger than 17, while Armie Hammer is cast as a 24-year-old, even though he is 31 and looks it.
Mr. Hammer, who starred in “The Lone Ranger” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” has defended the film. After actor James Woods accused the movie of promoting pedophilia, Mr. Hammer “asked him about dating a 19-year-old when he was 60,” according to MovieWeb.
“Armie Hammer has since deleted his Twitter account,” said MovieWeb’s Kevin Burwick. “This is a touchy subject, and one can see by both sides why feelings may be hurt.”
The film has racked up a slew of film critics’ awards, including best picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Both Mr. Hammer and Mr. Chalamet received Golden Globe nominations for acting.
Whether the critical praise and honors will help the film sell tickets is another question.
“If Hollywood wants people who aren’t going to see ‘Thor’ or ‘Star Wars,’ they’re not giving them a new reason to come,” Mr. Hoffman said. “They may give them a new reason to stay away.”
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