Pictured (from left) Larry Kramer, David Webster & Dante Di Loreto | Photography by Dave Allocca/Starpix
There was no question about who the guest of honor would be at the New York premiere of The Normal Heart on Tuesday evening. As Larry Kramer came down the central aisle of the Ziegfeld Theatre in a wheelchair, wearing his signature red cap, the auditorium rose to its feet, clapped, and cheered the 78-year-old writer and icon of gay rights activism. A teary-eyed Ryan Murphy paid homage to Kramer, his hero, shortly before the movie was played to a rapt audience that included Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, as well as cast members—including Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Denis O'Hare, Jonathan Groff, and others.
In making The Normal Heart, based on Kramer's 1985 play about the impact of AIDS on New York City, Murphy has achieved a long-held dream. If Kramer's play didn't kick-start the revolution he wanted, it has become, in time, a monument to the terror of AIDS and the power of anger in the face of government hostility and public apathy. Murphy's movie wrings astonishing performances from Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer as Ned Weeks and Felix Turner whose relationship stands at the heart of the movie. Several scenes, in particular, are showstoppers, including a stand-out monologue when Weeks, based on Kramer, begs his straight brother (an excellent Alfred Molina) to acknowledge that they are the same, and to treat him as normal, and—in the performance of his life—Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright, based on Rodger McFarlane, the first executive director of the Gay Mens Health Crisis, giving a eulogy for one of many, many lost friends.
Murphy, who recently told Out that Bomer "fought the hardest" for his role, should feel vindicated in his casting choices. Other stand-outs include Joe Mantello, Stephen Spinella, and Denis O'Hare. The fact that so many are out gay actors is a remarkable reflection of how the ground in Hollywood has shifted, and how a powerful director like Murphy can wield his influence.