Sunday, September 27, 2015

Stonewall (2015)

Film: Stonewall (2015)
Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Joey King, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Ron Perlman, Matt Craven
Director: Roland Emmerich
Oscar History: Umm, no.
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

I tried, I really, really tried.  I had read the reviews of the film and knew that what I was getting into was a risky venture, but on occasion I end up on the other side of the movies that are destroyed by the critics.  I loved Killing Them Softly and thought The Counselor was more than worth the ticket price.  I even think Fifty Shades of Grey wasn't nearly as bad as everyone wanted it to be.  But after seeing Stonewall, Roland Emmerich's awful, offensive, and downright homophobic (and this is coming from a gay director) film, you sort of wish that he'd stuck with his wheelhouse and just had aliens destroy the famed Stonewall Inn.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Danny (Irvine), a ridiculously handsome, recently-outed gay boy from rural Indiana who has been kicked out of his home, but is headed to New York City as he has been accepted at Columbia University for the fall, and just needs to find somewhere to live for a few months until he gets into school.  One wonders why he decided on Christopher Street other than it's a convenient plot point, as he might have had an easier time with, say, Long Island for a few months, but that's just one of the many convenient plot-points the writers decide to sort of gloss over.  Danny meets a group of young gay men and drag queens who initially befriend him, letting them sleep in their apartment while he finishes up night school and very occasionally tricks himself out for cash, and then he meets a political activist named Trevor (Rhys-Meyers), whom he starts a relationship with and starts staying at his apartment, resulting in him being alienated from his initial group of friends before Trevor cheats on him, which is largely the impetus in this particular movie for the Stonewall Riots.

The film's grasp on history is, well, awful.  The actual Stonewall Riots did not start with a white farmboy from Indiana, but instead with people-of-color, transgendered individuals, drag queens, and lesbians.  Yes, there were white/male protesters in the Stonewall Riots, but by-and-large they weren't the majority and they certainly weren't the leaders of the movement depicted in the film.  Roland Emmerich has thrown out a few different reasons he cast Irvine, ranging from the racist (he wanted a white, straight-acting male to be the way that straight audiences could relate to the protagonist, which is deeply offensive though I do throw a little side-eye at people who are protesting too loudly here and not at, say, every superhero and action film of the last two decades that didn't star Will Smith or Angelina Jolie) to the eye-rolling (he stated that he is a gay white male, and found it easiest to identify with a gay-white male as the lead, which may make sense in theory, but if you want to portray history it's worth noting that you should be trying to reflect history and not your own-written version of history-if he just wanted a film about his own experience, he should have stuck with that).  If these were Emmerich's only reasons for taking on Stonewall, it's bizarre he didn't just skip the movie and make Independence Day: Resurgence come a year earlier than expected.  However, you get the impression that both he and writer Jon Robin Baitz thought they were making an Oscar-worthy masterpiece.

The film has other issues as well, particularly around the central character of Danny.  Again, here I wanted to sympathize.  I was also a closeted gay kid from a small town who initially had to adjust to a world and culture with which I was unfamiliar.  So I really wanted to like him, but Danny is too much of a conundrum for anyone to properly identify with.  There are scenes in the film that might accidentally deal with some of the internalized homophobia of the gay community, of course.  Danny is attractive in the same way Corbin Fisher models are attractive, and he's straight-acting, which is something that is valued on so many Grindr profiles (yes, it's deeply problematic, troubling, and homophobic, but that doesn't mean that we all don't know that "no femmes" is written on 20% of Grindr and Tinder profiles).  Danny is pretty much a blank slate in terms of personality and emotion-he may be headed to Columbia, but he's hardly smarter than those around him in conversation or actions, and almost every person from Ray to Trevor to the men who want to pick him up wants to do so exclusively for his straightness and his looks.  I'd say this is deeply offensive, and it is, but I will also say that it isn't entirely untrue as someone who has waded the waters of the gay dating pool for a decade and encountered guys who value only these attributes.

The larger problem with Danny is that he is not believably gay.  This isn't because he's "straight-acting," but because it's hard to imagine that he was willing to sacrifice so much of his life (knowing that his dad was onto him about being gay, knowing that he was just months away from graduating and going to New York City and potentially restarting his life) for sex earlier on in the film for his blockheaded love interest Joe and then spends the rest of the film almost entirely asexual.  Stonewall isn't the only film to try and have its cake and eat it too on this front (The Imitation Game did the exact same thing with much less controversy last year).  Danny receives three oral sex encounters in the film and he cries literally during all three, two of which he looks like he's in complete agony during.  Danny rebuffs Ray completely, as well as all men aside from Trevor, and there he's only willing to sleep with him after being in a drug-induced haze.  Considering we don't see what started the relationship with Joe, who clearly doesn't care for him in the same way, and that his family was so religious and he had just a few months to go before school, one wonders what could have driven him to be such a hornball in high school and then to have absolutely no sexual interest in the world later on in the film.  It's a conundrum that isn't nearly as problematic as some of the historical misrepresentations, but it reeks of convenient plot points so ferociously that I had to bring it up.  It's also an issue because Stonewall continually makes sex something demonic-every sexual encounter ends up having awful results, and even in the end Danny isn't rewarded with a boyfriend or a healthier understanding of his gay side, but instead assimilates into gay culture with the very rare occasional trip down to Christopher Street while he's principally off in the heteronormative culture of Columbia.

The film is filled with these sorts of anachronisms and issues.  Ray spends the entire film a prostitute, and we're supposed to be happy about that-Danny gets out but there's no sense of caring toward Ray at the end, where he's still a hooker on Christopher Street, likely still being beat up and perpetually homeless.  Trevor cheats on Danny and is shown to be a serial philanderer, yet we're to believe a year later that he's with the same guy that he dumped Danny for?  Danny's mother scoots over to New York City somehow without her husband knowing in 1970 for a gay pride parade, standing proudly and looking at her son like it's 2015?  And don't get me started on the bizarre scenes with Ron Perlman's Ed Murphy, who goes from being a serial killer to being a celebrated gay rights activist somehow in the span of about twenty seconds?  The film is bad, problematic, and bizarrely sex free (if you're buying at ticket to at least get some objectification shots of Jeremy Irvine, you're going to be sadly disappointed).  Messy at best and racist/homophobic at worst, the film is just a reminder that someone should make a definitive version of Stonewall when the dust from this catastrophe has settled.

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