Call Me by Your Name (2017), written by James Ivory, won Best Adapted Screenplay at the 90th Academy Awards.
- Draft Read: Undated
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 82
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Rural Italy
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple months
- Genre(s): Coming-of-Age, Love
- Theme(s): Love, LGBTQ+, Sexuality
- Protagonist Change: Significant
Let’s start with the positives. This film has a simple concept: Two lovers, teetering somewhere between bisexual and gay, have a brief fling in rural Italy. I caught one, yes, only one, pop culture reference in the entire script: The Song Love My Way by The Psychedelic Furs, which I remember from GTA Vice City, but that’s a convo for another day. There are few supporting characters and those that do support the protagonist are truly that, supporting characters. Together, these are great screenwriting tactics, because they allow the audience to focus on the story.
As I’ve noted in the past, a good concept works in the same way that a strong foundation can support an otherwise shoddy house. And this screenplay has a good enough foundation.
Let’s talk about the script’s more neutral aspects. It takes forever for something, anything, to happen. And we all know what’s going to happen (sex), so why not just get on with it?
To keep the story going, earlier subplots are filled with poetic devices (I hope I’m using the term right), such as symbolism. For example, on Page 28, a statue is lifted from the water, thereby symbolizing Elio’s forthcoming sexual exploration. Two pages later, there’s a Heraclitus quote, as said by Oliver:
The meaning of the river flowing is not that all things are changing so that we cannot encounter them twice, but that some things stay the same only by changing.
You can take a guess as to it’s meaning. Two pages later, Annella (Elio’s mom) shares a story about a young knight who is in love with a princess, yet is unable to share his true feelings. And then I stopped taking notes because I felt like George Constanza when he wanted to ask out the film store clerk, yet Kramer told him to play the timeless art of seduction. In other words, just get on with it.
In reality, that’s what this screenplay is. A softcore romantic drama with references to Western philosophy and mythology. And it’s well written. And it went on to win many awards. But does it test the boundaries of filmmaking? Is it groundbreaking? Is it a true work of art? Read the screenplay and answer that for yourself.
A young man, Elio, works up the courage to start a semi-secretive relationship with the family’s exchange student, Oliver. Perhaps most interestingly, the supporting characters, including Elio’s family, don’t get the way. Rather, they encourage him to explore his sexuality. It’s a unique structure because it goes against just about any LGBT+ and most love stories, for that matter.
I found Oliver’s character a bit choppy. He tends to oscillate between adult and lover, and many of his lines were unexpected.
Dialogue & Pacing
An interesting choice by the writer was use long action lines post-dialogue to explain exactly how a line should be delivered. Example:
I don’t think she does.
But the way he says this means “Even if she did, I am sure her feelings would be no different than mine.”
It’s an interesting technique and perhaps isn’t needed; because the writing is so well done, as the reader I could already acutely understand Perlman’s position.
The dialogue serves as a good example of two characters having two separate conversations, often saying one thing but meaning another, that come together perfectly. Even if at point a bit over-the-top, the dialogue is very well crafted.
I felt the pacing was slow up until the midpoint. The second half was a bit faster.
Call Me by Your Name is a love story. It’s not a particularly unique one, but it certainly has an impact, as all love stories do. The decision to include the not-so-happy ending, which occurs six months later, is interesting and could be considered the most intense emotional scene.
Best Part of The Script
A few scenes that stand out:
- The scene by the spring (Page 36).
- Perlman’s Monologue (Page 77). Here’s one quote from it: “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster, that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new.” Holy heck, you could gain more wisdom in a five minute conversation with this guy than you could listening to any internet gurus and philosophers. Read his monologue.