The Normal Heart (film)

The Normal Heart
The Normal Heart Poster.jpeg
Television release poster
Based onThe Normal Heart
by Larry Kramer
Screenplay byLarry Kramer
Directed byRyan Murphy
Music byCliff Martinez
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producers
ProducerScott Ferguson
CinematographyDaniel Moder
EditorAdam Penn
Running time132 minutes
Production companies
DistributorHBO Films
Original networkHBO
Original release
  • May 25, 2014 (2014-05-25)

The Normal Heart is a 2014 American television drama film directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Larry Kramer, based on his 1985 play of the same name. The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Joe Mantello, Jonathan Groff, and Julia Roberts.

The film depicts the rise of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984, as seen through the eyes of writer/activist Ned Weeks (Ruffalo), the founder of a prominent HIV advocacy group. Weeks prefers public confrontations to the calmer, more private strategies favored by his associates, friends, and closeted lover Felix Turner (Bomer). Their differences of opinion lead to arguments that threaten to undermine their shared goals.

It was released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 26, 2014.


It is summer of 1981. Ned (Alexander) Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) is an openly gay writer from New York City who travels to Fire Island via Long Island to celebrate the birthday of his friend Craig Donner (Jonathan Groff) at a beach house. Other friends in attendance include Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello) and the charismatic Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch), who has recently begun dating Craig, who is young and appears to be in good health. While walking on the beach, however, Craig feels dizzy and collapses. Later, when blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Craig begins to cough repeatedly.

While traveling back to New York City, Ned reads an article in the New York Times titled "Rare Cancer Diagnosed in 41 Homosexuals". Back in the city, he visits the offices of Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts), a physician who has seen many patients afflicted with symptoms of rare diseases that normally would be harmless unless their immune systems had been compromised. All of these cases seem to be appearing in gay men. In the waiting room, Ned meets Sanford (Stephen Spinella), a patient whose face and hands are marked with skin lesions caused by Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare cancer. Brookner examines Ned, but finds that he does not have the symptoms of this disease. She asks Ned to help her raise awareness of this disease within the gay community.

Craig suddenly suffers violent convulsions and is rushed to the hospital with Ned, Mickey, and Bruce where he is later pronounced dead. Brookner recognizes Bruce, noting that he is the former boyfriend of another one of her patients who recently died. Ned organizes a gathering at his home where many local gay men are invited to hear Brookner share information about the disease. Though she lacks conclusive evidence, she states her belief that the illness is sexually transmissible and that they should all avoid having sex for the time being to prevent new transmissions. Most attendees question her belief. She notes that few medical journals appear interested in publishing anything on this disease which is mostly affecting homosexual men. Ned announces that he wants to start an organization to spread information about the disease and provide services to those who have been infected.

Brookner and Ned visit a local hospital where several of her sick patients are in critical condition with an illness that is now being referred to as gay-related immune deficiency (GRID). They stay in rooms that many hospital staff are afraid to enter for fear of contracting the disease. Ned, Bruce, Mickey, and several other friends including Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons) establish a community organization called Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC). The organization sponsors fundraisers for research on the disease now called AIDS and establishes a telephone hotline, counseling, and other services. Over Ned's objections, they elect Bruce their president. Ned arranges for his older brother, lawyer Ben Weeks (Alfred Molina), to provide free legal advice to the GMHC. The two brothers are close, but there remains an underlying tension over Ben's lack of understanding of Ned's sexuality. Ned contacts gay New York Times reporter Felix Turner (Matt Bomer), hoping that he can use his media connections to publish more stories about the unfolding health crisis. Felix laments that it is difficult getting any mainstream newspapers to report much information on AIDS. After Felix recalls that he and Ned had a sexual tryst at a gay bathhouse, the two begin a romantic relationship.

The disease continues to spread and claim lives. Bruce attempts to travel to Phoenix with his boyfriend Albert (Finn Wittrock), who is dying, so that Albert can see his mother one more time. The airline refuses at first to fly the plane with sick Albert on board. When they do eventually get to Phoenix, Albert dies following a period of dementia. The hospital doctors refuse to examine him and issue a death certificate, and instead throw him out with the garbage while Bruce bribes a funeral home to cremate his body without a death certificate.

Brookner attempts to obtain grant money to continue researching AIDS, but her efforts are rejected by government officials who do not see AIDS as a priority. Ned, meanwhile, is kicked out of GMHC for his combative and aggressive tactics to promote awareness of AIDS, which is causing tension within the group.

Felix comes down with symptoms and his body wastes away as the disease claims his life. Felix arranges for a will with the help of Ben, and leaves everything he has to Ned. The two state their love for one another at the hospital before Felix dies. A few days later, Ned visits his alma mater, Yale University, where a Gay Week is being hosted by the students. He admires how young men and women are able to dance with one another openly, without fear of discrimination.

Information is displayed about the growing number of people developing AIDS, as Tommy's Rolodex pile (the contact info of his friends who have died from AIDS) grows bigger, eventually including Bruce Niles.



In August 2011, Ryan Murphy said in an interview with Deadline Hollywood that he had optioned The Normal Heart and intended to produce the film version, starring Mark Ruffalo "and maybe Julia Roberts". The Hollywood Reporter confirmed the film news in January 2012, adding Alec Baldwin, Matt Bomer, and Jim Parsons to the previously announced cast. In March 2013, Taylor Kitsch joined the cast. In April 2013, the casting of actors Jonathan Groff and Joe Mantello was announced. In May 2013, it was announced that Alfred Molina would be replacing Alec Baldwin. Both Parsons and Mantello had starred in the 2011 Broadway revival, although Parsons was the only actor to reprise his role.

Murphy stated that he created this film, despite the play from which it derives being written in the 1980s, due to fears that people born after the 1980s AIDS crisis would not remember its lessons. The main producers were HBO & Plan B (the Brad Pitt company).


Principal photography began on June 8, 2013, in New York City, New York. On July 12, the crew was spotted shooting the film in Little Italy. During the course of filming, production was temporarily suspended to allow some of the actors to change their physical appearances; Bomer lost 40 pounds to show the ravages of AIDS on his character.


The Normal Heart debuted on HBO on May 25, 2014, after an earlier theatrical screening at the Inside Out Film and Video Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 23, 2014.

Home media

The Normal Heart was released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 26, 2014.


Critical response

The film received widespread critical acclaim, with praise for Kramer's screenplay, its drama, moral messages, production values, and the performances of the cast. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 94% based on 50 reviews, with an average score of 7.72/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "Thanks to Emmy-worthy performances from a reputable cast, The Normal Heart is not only a powerful, heartbreaking drama, but also a vital document of events leading up to and through the early AIDS crisis." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 85 out of 100, based on 33 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone awarded the film with a 3.5/4 and praised the film, "Written, directed and acted with a passion that radiates off the screen, The Normal Heart is drama at its most incendiary, a blunt instrument that is also poetic and profound. As gay men in crisis, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello (who played Ned onstage) all excel. But it's Kramer, still raging over what's not being done, who tears at your heart." Ellen Gray of the Philadelphia Daily News commended "And though the supporting cast members are all good (Parsons particularly so), it's Kramer's fury, channeled through Ruffalo's manic energy as the writer's alter-ego Ned Weeks, that keeps The Normal Heart beating and preserves a horrific bit of all too recent history not in amber, but in anger."

Murphy's direction received mixed reviews from critics. Brian Lowry of Variety criticized Murphy's direction and the story's transition from stage to screen: "Murphy being Murphy, he can't resist throwing in moments that drift toward an American Horror Story vibe, such as a subway sequence where dramatic lighting flashes in and out on a lesion-pocked face. The translation from stage to screen also yields speeches that probably played better live, although the director has for the most part opened up the Tony-winning material into movie form," although he particularly hailed The Normal Heart as "a character-oriented drama with theatrical talent and values that would face challenges finding much purchase at the modern-day multiplex. The result is a movie, for mostly better and sometimes worse, that wears its heart on its sleeve." Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post also criticized Murphy's direction, writing: "But if you do watch the film, just be aware that every few minutes you may wish that someone — anyone — other than Murphy had directed it. Murphy is a self-indulgent director and not particularly rigorous or disciplined. He serves his own muse, not necessarily the needs of the material, and though it's a classic, Kramer's play is also unwieldy and outright clumsy at time."

TVLine named Bomer the "Performer of the Week" for his performance.


Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Movie Won
Best Actor in a Movie/Miniseries Mark Ruffalo Nominated
Best Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries Matt Bomer Won
Joe Mantello Nominated
Best Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries Julia Roberts Nominated
Humanitas Prize 90 Minute or Longer Network or Syndicated Television Larry Kramer Won
Online Film & Television Association Awards Best Motion Picture Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Mark Ruffalo Won
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Matt Bomer Won
Taylor Kitsch Nominated
Joe Mantello Nominated
Alfred Molina Nominated
Jim Parsons Nominated
Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Julia Roberts Nominated
Best Direction of a Motion Picture or Miniseries Ryan Murphy Won
Best Writing of a Motion Picture or Miniseries Larry Kramer Won
Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Won
Best Cinematography in a Non-Series Nominated
Best Costume Design in a Non-Series Nominated
Best Editing in a Non-Series Nominated
Best Makeup/Hairstyling in a Non-Series Nominated
Best Music in a Non-Series Nominated
Best Production Design in a Non-Series Nominated
Best Sound in a Non-Series Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Television Movie Ryan Murphy, Dante Di Loreto, Jason Blum,
Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Mark Ruffalo,
Alexis Martin Woodall, and Scott Ferguson
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Mark Ruffalo Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Matt Bomer Nominated
Joe Mantello Nominated
Alfred Molina Nominated
Jim Parsons Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Julia Roberts Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Ryan Murphy Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Larry Kramer Nominated
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Amanda Mackey and Cathy Sandrich Gelfond Nominated
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie Danny Moder Nominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special Daniel Orlandi, Gail A. Fitzgibbons,
Hartsell Taylor, and Maria Tortu
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie Chris Clark, Joe Whitmeyer, Valerie Gladstone,
Frida Ardottir, and Lyndell Quiyou
Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries or a Movie (Non-Prosthetic) Eryn Krueger Mekash, Sherri Berman Laurence,
Nicky Pattison, LuAnn Claps, Mike Mekash, and
Carla White
Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Miniseries, Movie or a Special Eryn Krueger Mekash, Sherri Berman Laurence,
Christien Tinsley, Mary Anne Spano,
James Sarzotti, and Nicky Pattison
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie Adam Penn Nominated
Women's Image Network Awards Actress Made for Television Movie / Mini-Series Julia Roberts Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Miniseries or Motion Picture for Television Adam Penn Won
Artios Awards Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Television Movie/Mini Series Amanda Mackey, Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, and
Susanne C. Scheel
Cinema Audio Society Awards Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Movies and Mini-Series Drew Kunin, Joe Earle, Doug Andham,
Beauxregard Neylen, and Scott Curtis
Costume Designers Guild Awards Outstanding Made for Television Movie or Miniseries Daniel Orlandi Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Miniseries Ryan Murphy Nominated
Dorian Awards TV Drama of the Year Won
TV Performance of the Year – Actor Matt Bomer Nominated
Mark Ruffalo Nominated
TV Director of the Year Ryan Murphy Nominated
GLAAD Media Awards Outstanding TV Movie or Mini-Series Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Miniseries or Television Film Nominated
Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film Mark Ruffalo Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Matt Bomer Won
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Long Form Dialogue and ADR in Television Gary Megregian and Jason Krane Nominated
Best Sound Editing - Long Form Sound Effects and Foley in Television Gary Megregian, Timothy A. Cleveland,
John Petaja, Scott Curtis, Paul J. Diller,
Dawn Lunsford, and Alicia Stevenson
Gracie Awards Outstanding Female Actor in a Supporting Role – Drama Julia Roberts Won
Guild of Music Supervisors Awards Best Music Supervision – Television Long Form and Movies P.J. Bloom Won
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Best Period and/or Character Hair Styling –
Television Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Chris Clark and Joseph Whitmeyer Nominated
Best Period and/or Character Makeup –
Television Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Eryn Krueger Mekash and Sherri Berman Laurence Nominated
Producers Guild of America Awards David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television Jason Blum, Dante Di Loreto, Scott Ferguson,
Dede Gardner, Alexis Martin Woodall, Ryan Murphy,
Brad Pitt, and Mark Ruffalo
Stanley Kramer Award Won
Satellite Awards Best Motion Picture Made for Television Nominated
Best Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television Mark Ruffalo Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Matt Bomer Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries Mark Ruffalo Won
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries Julia Roberts Nominated
Television Academy Honors Honored
Writers Guild of America Awards Long Form – Adapted Larry Kramer – Based on his play Nominated

See also

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