Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) is in the opening scene in Yan Ten’s “1985” as he waits for his father Dale (Michael Chiklis) to pick him up at the airport. Adrian is coming back to Texas for the first time in three years. He moved to New York and seldom came home. He has basically ignored his family and their calls aside from the time that his brother Andrew (Aidan Langford) planned to visit him in the big city. Adrian is essentially a ghost yet now he is more visual to his family than to himself since his HIV diagnosis.
His father, Dale, says that he lost weight because of a stomach flu. We never hear the words gay or AIDS in this family and that is because their home is a religious one. Adrian pretends to be having a successful life in New York. He “has” a comfortable ad agency job but the reality is that he’s attended far too many funerals for a man in his twenties and the fact he’s likely going to die soon himself has forced him to go to his hometown to say goodbye. He isn’t alone in his quiet desperation. Dale, a Vietnam vet, doesn’t know how to talk to either Adrian or Andrew, now that the latter has traded in football for drama club. Adrian’s mother (Virginia Madsen) sneaks into his room at night while he’s away. The discontent amongst all of Adrian’s family, as well as Carly (Jamie Chung), a friend from high school who has since moved out of the suburbs herself, is notable because of the way director Tan uses each of the pieces they feel are missing to find the places where they connect, either in a feeling of shared emptiness or the delightful recognition of the person they knew in happier, simpler times. This is what makes “1985” so devastating. The film builds subtly but steadily, with its considerable might being exposed in close-ups, with the full force of the performances of a wonderful cast drawn out by the black-and-white cinematography.
Before you know it, “1985” comes and goes, spanning just a few mostly uneventful days while Andrew is home for Christmas, yet it sticks around far longer in the mind.
Adrian’s conservative family does not know that Adrian is gay, and they certainly don’t know that the AIDS crisis has hit home for their oldest son. Much of “1985” consists of Adrian battling with how much to tell his parents, his brother or even an old girlfriend and Tan emotionally seeks to capture that horrible feeling of when you have a trauma you can’t share with those who love you the most. Prejudices and preconceptions are often more exaggerated than they are in real life. Smith grounds Adrian in an emotional, subtle performance. Of course, a movie about AIDS is not easy to watch and this is one of those. Yet, it is uplifting. I am glad to see that we have not forgotten the epidemic and it is so important that we never forget.