The Reviews Are in
“Not the most imaginative or politically trenchant retelling, but entertaining and at times quite moving”. David Rooney for “The Hollywood Reporter”.
We can never forget that the freedoms that we have today as members of the gay community are because those before us dared to stand up, speak out and fight. The birth of the gay liberation movement has been attributed to the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York City and we have a new film directed Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” about what happened that night. It is just too bad that the film is something less than we deserve in order to honor those who were there that night.
It was very different back then in 1969. Many gays were thrown out of their families when they came out and then they left home and gravitated to big urban centers where they could live as the pleased and openly so.
Danny (Jeremy Irvine) was one such young man. Danny had been having sex with the football quarterback in the shadows and this quite upset the coach who happened to be his father. Now Danny could very much have been quite a heroic character but for some reason in this film, he comes across as something of a caricature. With his arrival in New York, he meets a myriad of stereotypes. It is here that any creditability of the film is lost. Stereotypes are just that—commonly held lies that perhaps are based on some truth but by and large are dishonest representations of people. The Stonewall riot that we see here is an insult to those who were in it and it is insulting to those of us who watch it in this film.
But there is some good acting here, namely Irvine as Danny. When the movie begins, we find him in New York, when he walks into a local bar and meets Queen Tooey (Richard Jutras). Danny knows he is gay and he tries to find a place in New York City where there are others like him. We see Danny with is new friend of which one of them, Ray/Ramona (Jonny Beauchamp), has growing feelings towards him. Then the police start pushing hard on homosexuals with non-stop arrests and these are what led to the Stonewall riots.
However, let me warn you that the riots that are a seminal event in LGBT history just become the backdrop for the story of a homeless boy from Indiana looking for friendship in NYC. Roland Emmerich treats a seminal event in the gay pride movement as the mere backdrop to the otherwise vanilla story of a homeless Indiana teen looking for community in New York City. There is none of the spectacles that we have come to expect from Emmerich—he puts spectacle and fantasy away and brings us an event that really happened and changed history and he does so by using the dynamism of 1969’s historic Greenwich Village uprising as a platform to address the epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. This itself is a great idea especially now that we are in a period of LGBT freedom that is unequaled in our history but he does so through the use of stereotypes.
Expectations for this film were high as we saw in the controversy that accompanied a trailer that was released early on. Let me see that the film is problematic but it should be seen before conclusions are drawn. It is not as bad as some thought it would be but neither is it as good as it could have been. The politics present problems as does the composite main character. There is no subtlety about what the West Village’s Sheridan Square means to Danny, who stumbles it is a kind of a daze. He is stunned by all the “alternative” lifestyles he sees— boys in girls’ clothes, men openly flirting with men and older trolls whose sexual appetites cannot seem to be appeased. Danny was rescued from the trolls by Ray who is a flamboyantly effeminate Puerto Rican with long hair and handmade ladies’ costumes.
Are we seeing a dysfunctional family drama or something else? Because Danny has never really lived an urban lifestyle before he really sticks out. He is amazed by what he sees— the acts of civil disobedience: shoplifting from Village stores, cross-dressing in public and turning tricks for both pleasure and profit. Ray certainly cares for Danny, as does local activist Trevor Nichols (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). After picking Danny up one night at the Stonewall Inn, Trevor brings the kid to meetings and offers him a place to stay directly opposite the Stonewall. The Stonewall happens to be Ray’s favorite bar even though it is dark and nasty.
In 1969, at a time when the “gay community” didn’t exist as anything so unified, Stonewall was a place to meet and connect with others and we see that it captures that in the film.
The film does not ignore that many of the patrons of the Stonewall made money to spend there by having sex with those who would pay for it. I really wanted to like this film and I indeed so like the lead character of Billy. The others do not fare so well. Danny’s fast friend Ray, the actually gay Jonny Beauchamp, lisps and screeches his way through the movie. Danny’s sister who totally supports him (Joey King) threw her acting away when she came on screen.
So many of the other actors are wooden in their portrayals of the characters that changed the course of gay history. What we see is fiction and not what really happened at Stonewall.
Emmerich even with the purest of intentions does have the intelligence to make the film that should have been made instead of this.