There’s a moment in Dallas Buyers Club when Jared Leto’s character Rayon tells God that when she meets Him, she wants to be pretty, a “beautiful angel.” This coexistence of positivity in spite of supreme sadness reflects the tone of Dallas Buyers Club, a biographical film based on the story of AIDS patient Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey). Though it’s easy to classify a typical “AIDS movie” as poignant through its sadness, Dallas Buyers Club is no Philadelphia or Rent. The film is positive, uplifting and, at points, quite funny.
After receiving his AIDS diagnosis and 30-day life prognosis, homophobic cowboy Ron Woodroof works diligently to find a supply of AZT, the FDA-approved drug used to delay the development of AIDS. The AZT nearly kills Woodroof and inspires his formation of an illegal drug club, trafficking anti-viral medication from around the world into his own hands. The story is one of agency and determination rather than of victimhood and concession.
There’s a reason the Hollywood Foreign Press has nominated McConaughey and Leto for their riveting performances. The story of Dallas Buyers Club is surprisingly character-driven despite the gravity of the situation. Ron Woodroof’s actions and words pre-diagnosis are racist, sexist and most certainly homophobic. Leto’s performance as the transgender, HIV-positive Rayon cuts Woodroof’s homophobia and leads to his ultimate love and respect for Rayon. If Woodroof can move past his debilitating prejudices, any movie-goer can reject his or her own problematic thought tendencies.
Matthew McConaughey ended his Golden Globe for Best Actor speech with the line: “This film was never about dying, it was always about living. With that, I say just keep.” Let’s hope we hear those poetic words again as he accepts his Oscar on March 2.