Mark Twain once wrote “Truth is stranger than fiction.” For the most part, he was right. There are countless films released toward the beginning of the awards season that claim to be based on true stories but then treat accuracy with little regard for the sake of apparent coherence or entertainment. I’m inclined to believe that if a filmmaker creates a film based on a true story with no real intention of remaining faithful to the facts then it’s unnecessary to found the film on reality in the first place. Much of the truth has been tinkered with in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club; a shame since it might have been a much better picture had Vallée just stuck with the facts.
Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a larger-than-life electrician and rodeo cowboy in Dallas during the mid-80s. As a result of his excessively festive lifestyle, Woodroof is diagnosed with AIDS and given thirty days to live – a verdict he initially rejects, since he isn’t a ‘homo’. Ultimately forced to accept his condition, Woodroof finds that the drugs necessary to prolong his life are only available abroad and are illegal to sell in the United States. Woodroof enters an uneasy agreement with transgender junkie Rayon (Jared Leto) to invent the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, in which AIDS victims pay a monthly fee in return for their medication.
Dallas Buyers Club is never dull, thanks in great part to Matthew McConaughey’s fantastic performances as Woodroof, but it’s also never remarkable. There’s little comment as to the wider impact of the AIDS epidemic and story is reduced to Woodroof versus the Food and Drug Administration. It might not have been a problem, if the questions surrounding the epidemic didn’t feel so crucial to Woodroof’s true story. By the end of Dallas Buyers Club, Woodroof is represented as a hero of the AIDS epidemic, although you could change the situation entirely and Vallée’s film wouldn’t be all that different.
A cursory search on Google will reveal that much of Woodroof’s story has been altered during its transition to film. Two central characters Rayon and Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) are fabricated, albeit a combination of a variety of characters. Additionally, there’s little evidence that Woodroof’s negative attitudes toward homosexuals toward the beginning of the film are accurate, indeed Woodroof’s closest friends believed him to be bisexual. While Vallée keeps Woodroof’s story compelling by maintaining a certain momentum, Dallas Buyers Club, like comparably altered biopics of the same ilk, feels diluted and weak. Truth is much stranger than fiction, and much more compelling.
Dallas Buyers Club is an imprecise look at what must have been an interesting story. McConaughey’s performance is subtle, but profound, and is the central driving force behind Vallée’s film. Woodroof’s final years are a compelling enough story but the insubstantial approach toward the Club and the AIDS epidemic doesn’t do the subject justice.