‘1985’ Takes a Very Emotional Look at the AIDS Crisis – Movie Review

1985 film trailer release Yen Tan Cory Michael Smith

Yen Tan’s 1985 takes a very emotional look at the AIDS crisis by centering around a single family. Building on the ideas featured in his short of the same name, Tan offers a story that might feel relatable to many in the queer community growing up in the ’80s.

I was provided a free screener of 1985 for review. The opinions are my own.

I am going to say right now that 1985 isn’t a happy film. The moment Adrian (Cory Michael Smith from Gotham) appears on screen, you can tell he is carrying an enormous weight on his shoulders. Not only has Adrian seen many of his friends lose their lives to the AIDS crisis, he too is on borrowed time.

Where films like Longtime Companion and Buddies have tackled the subject before, 1985 takes a different approach. It deals with an HIV-positive closeted gay young man returning home to Texas for Christmas knowing it will be the last time he will get to see his family.

There is a distance between Adrian and his parents. No matter how much Adrian tries, he can’t get any closer. The same can be said about his parents. Adrian’s mother, Eileen (played amazingly by Virginia Madsen), loves him but she too keeps herself away because she can’t bring herself to ask Adrian about his sexuality. There is a close-up of Eileen when she takes Adrian to the airport and that particular scene is glorious.

Adrian’s father, Dale (Michael Chiklis), is handling their relationship in his own way. However, Dale does make it clear to Adrian he can always count on him.

The fourth family member is Adrian’s very young brother, Andrew (Aidan Langford). Andrew loves listening to Madonna and he’s gay, too. Also, Andrew is having trouble passing as straight and his behavior has Dale worried. Adrian wants to help his brother the best he can but is unable to because he doesn’t have enough time.

Then there’s Carly (Jamie Chung) who Adrian cut from his life when he moved to the city. Carly is understandably upset when Adrian comes back and the two share a very emotional conversation when Adrian tells her the truth about his health. Their scenes together are raw and real. I loved every second! The film also addresses the racism Carly has to face.

The entire cast has done an amazing job! Every character is stuck in a place where they want to say a lot but can’t due to their own reasons. Whether it is Dale trying to show emotion and wanting the best for his sons, Eileen trying to keep her family together, or Adrian wanting to give his family all the happiness he can, each of them has a lot under the surface and it is conveyed clearly with how the talent has acted out their scenes.

Also, I don’t know if it was Tan’s intention, but the way he filmed 1985 in black-and-white along with the low angles he used made me see the restriction Adrian has to experience upon his return to Texas. The deletion of color helped add to the grave nature of the plot.

While the entire film is a tearjerker, it does end on a hopeful note (even if it will make you cry) as Andrew listens to a message Adrian left for him.

In the end, 1985 is a tough film to watch; however, it is an important one. It is a wonderful offering by Yen Tan, who made me a fan of his work with his queer film 2013 Pit Stop.

1985 opened this week in NY – Quad Cinema and LA – Laemmle Glendale.

On the subject of HIV and how much progress has been made, please check out the web series Daddyhunt.

Feel free to share your thoughts about 1985 with us.

Author: Farid-ul-Haq

Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.

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