Over the last three decades there has been great advancement in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Many of us know of or about someone who died from the disease. Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club chronicles Ron Woodruff’s (played by Matthew McConaughay) journey from his diagnosis to his treatment of HIV, and the impact he had on the AIDS community. The film is a tribute to his impact on AIDS patients throughout the country in the mid to late 80’s and well into the next decade. The film also stars, Jared Leto, both a fellow AIDS patient and crossdresser, and Jennifer Gardner as Dr. Eve Saks, the doctor who initially treats both men. The title emanates from “buyers clubs” that sprouted up as a result of the inability to get effective treatment that suppresses the impact of the AIDS virus without significant side effects. As many of us recall, HIV was originally thought to be a gay man’s disease. This idea is greatly apparent in the film as Woodruff, at the outset of his diagnosis, refuses to acknowledge that he has the virus that causes AIDS. He insisted that he was no “Fag”. Initially in the film, Woodruff uses pejorative language against gays because he did not agree with their lifestyle . He and his associates have total disdain for the gay community. Once diagnosed, Woodruff is given thirty days to live. After a brief period of denial, he realizes that he did indeed have HIV. Consequently, he researches treatment as well as the side effects of the medication he is given. Initially, he obtains AZT illegally, but soon realizes that the side effects are too great. McConaughay plays a convincing Woodruff for his resolution and for his tenacity which are depicted as if Woodruff had played the role himself. Unfortunately, Woodruff is no longer with us to affirm McConaughay’s performance. The film is told through the trials and triumphs of the AIDS community.
In the late 80’s, AZT was the drug that was commonly prescribed; however, the drug in its original strength was too strong for the average AIDS patient. In the film, Woodruff decides to go out of the country to buy drugs for fellow AIDS patients. Despite the law against selling drugs in the United States that were purchased internationally, Woodruff decides to sell them to patients so that they would have the needed medication; however, that is ephemeral. As a result of the illegality of selling the drugs, he forms a buyers club to skirt the law. The AIDS patients become part of the Dallas Buyers Club where they pay for membership in the club that enables them go receive the medication as part of their membership which pays for the medication. In the end, he helps an innumerable amount of people live longer than expected. Moreover, he helped the medical community rethink their treatment of AIDS patients, including the prescription and strength of AZT.
During this time, he becomes less contemptuous and disdainful toward the gay community as his character is transformed. They grow to love him and he grows to respect them. He even befriends Rayon, a cross dresser, played by Leto, who has AIDS. The film chronicles the friendship of Woodruff and Rayon as they both support one another through their illness. In the end, because of all of his efforts, Woodruff lives for seven years past his initial pronouncement of thirty days to live.
In the beginning of the film, we are given a glimpse of Woodruff’s character and of his sex addiction. He is not amiable toward others, especially to the gay community. Moreover, there are multiple scenes and derisive language concerning his sex life and concerning his original lack of empathy that are quite graphic. We are shown his sexual addiction over his entire adult life, even after his initial diagnosis. He never used protection because he associated AIDS with gay men. He rejected the diagnosis because he loved “pussy” so much that he could not fathom that he could be diagnosed with AIDS. Both he and his friends mocked gays; however, as time passes, we see him defending gays and going through great difficulty to assist them. That enamor is reciprocated by the many people whom he helped live longer and more comfortably with AIDS.
As stated, Matthew McConnahey is convincing in his role. He lost fifty pounds to play this character. He was transformed from a handsome virile man, to one who was sickly in spite of his aggressive actions for survival. One can see that Woodruff, as played by McConaughay, is not unctuous, but sincere in enabling us to see his transformed character. His performance is Oscar caliber, although his costar, Leto, may in fact receive the Oscar nomination for his stunning portrayal as a crossdresser. Both actors move with ease in their role. Currently, actors who star as crossdressers or as men playing female characters are receiving accolades and plaudits for their roles. We have seen this in Fierstein’s Kinky Boots and in the musical adaptation of Dahl’s Matilda. The Oscar’s await us with great expectation.