Obamacare has nothing on the Dallas Buyers Club. In defiance of a 1980s health care system that was kicking many of the nation's most vulnerable citizens to the curb, the Dallas Buyers Club tangled with no less than the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Agency, FBI and IRS. And decades before the Affordable Care Act, Ron Woodroof--the reddest red-necked son of a bitch you may ever encounter--was providing affordable care through a Dallas-based marketplace, offering unapproved HIV/AIDS meds.
In a startling transformation (ultimately shedding 50 pounds for the role), Matthew McConaughey delivers his best performance to date as Woodroof, a shit-kicking homophobe who survived seven years beyond an HIV diagnosis that gave him 30 days to live.
In one pivotal hospital scene of Dallas Buyers Club, we see McConaughey's Woodroof at 135 pounds--which drew gasps from a world premiere audience at September's Toronto International Film Festival.
"Dropping that weight was what was needed. It was the truth of the role," McConaughey told Boise Weekly in Toronto, adding that the production struggled with its own diet of limited funding and a lean shooting schedule. "We shot 27 days in a row; and when they said, 'It's a wrap,' I looked up and finally caught my breath."
McConaughey, back to his usual chiseled frame for the Toronto premiere, flashed his familiar grin as the audience greeted him and his castmates with a wave of ovations.
"I have to say that Matthew is doing something spectacular here," said Jared Leto, who is pretty spectacular himself in his portrayal of transsexual Rayon, Woodroof's unlikely ally. "Matthew is doing some amazing work lately and I wanted to be a part of that."
Jennifer Garner, who plays immunologist Dr. Eve Saks, said filming was "guerilla-style."
"We were making this penny-pecked, itsy-bitsy movie," she said. "But the story had a big heart and that's why this movie just feels so big."
Woodroof and Rayon skirted U.S. government sanctions by establishing a so-called "buyers club," where HIV-positive people paid monthly dues to access unapproved drugs; and as the club continued to grow in the late '80s, it was subjected to frequent raids by the FDA, DEA and IRS. But Woodroof countered with restraining orders while defiantly refilling the club's stockpile of meds. And when the FDA tried to block the import of drugs from specific countries, Woodroof would travel elsewhere to smuggle in new alternatives. By 1991, the Chicago Tribune reported that there were more than a dozen similar "clubs" operating out of small offices or storefronts, serving thousands of individuals across the U.S.
And therein lies the audacity of Dallas Buyers Club, one of the year's best films--that alongside a nation's responsibility to feed its hungry and shelter its homeless is an equal calling to offer care to each other.
Woodroof eventually died in 1992, but not before meeting screenwriter Craig Borten, who said he kept the screenplay of Dallas Buyers Club in his back pocket for nearly 20 years.
"What interested me was having this man who goes from being extremely bigoted ... evolving to learn what real friendship is. And those who accept him and support him are HIV and AIDS patients, nearly all of whom are gay," said Borten. "That was a story I needed to help tell."
And Woodroof's story is great medicine. Here's your prescription: Take two tickets and call us in the morning.