Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Danny gets his first view of Manhattan
STONEWALL (2015). Director: Roland Emmerich.

After he is discovered having sex with another man, Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) leaves his small town and his coach-father's rejection and comes to Manhattan. There he meets an excitable drag queen named Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), who befriends him and falls for him unrequitedly. Ray is part of a group of gay hustlers, street people and "queens" who congregate on and around the Stonewall bar in Sheridan Square, a mafia-run dive that caters to different elements of the gay community. Danny, who is masculine and very handsome, has no sexual feelings for the effeminate Ray, but winds up in a brief relationship with Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who works for the early gay rights group, the Mattachine Society. After a series of misadventures, Danny winds up in the Stonewall during a police raid, but this time the angry patrons fight back and a riot ensues ... One would hope that a movie based on this seminal event in Gay Liberation would be better than this, but Stonewall seems overrun with cliches and caricatures. Many people objected to the fictional character of Danny -- white, masculine and good-looking (as if there are no white, masculine, good-looking gay guys!) -- because he doesn't typify the more outre customer of the Stonewall, but considering the fact that a great many white gay guys traveled from their small towns to make their way to Greenwich Village (including the Stonewall), this seems unfair. (And there have certainly been plenty of movies about queens and transvestites so why not equal time?) A bigger problem is that this fictional character takes center stage, throwing the first brick and shouting "gay power!" Worse is that Danny's misadventures in New York with pathetic old johns and sometimes obnoxious drag queens with attitude -- Ray's hopeless crush on Danny, for instance, although, oddly, I almost found myself hoping this unlikely couple would make it -- have been done so often that you think you're seeing something made twenty years ago. (Sheesh, we've even got the bit about the gay guy coming home to discover the man he loved has gotten married!)  Films have been made in which gay characters wind up at the Stonewall riots, and that's what this should have been -- but it shouldn't have been called Stonewall. Jon Robin Baitz' screenplay tries to touch all bases, but with so much time given over to Danny's less interesting and over-familiar life story, there's not much room left for the event itself. If Ed Murphy (Ron Perlman) -- who was involved in the bar, was said to be a criminal, and later became a gay activist -- were alive today he would undoubtedly file a lawsuit. Of the actors Beauchamp does a pretty fine job with Ray, and the British Irvine is credible as Danny, although at times he over-acts when his character over-reacts. He's another English actor who sounds perfectly American (a gift that doesn't always work the other way around.) Meyers is good as Trevor and successfully disguises his Irish origins. Perlman is certainly vivid as Murphy, and there are other effective performances among the large supporting cast. While this is not a terribly good picture -- a shame, considering its honorable intentions -- there are some good scenes, such as when white leather guys come to the defense of a black drag queen that Murphy is about to beat (although Keller's, where the scene takes place, was not a leather bar, and this is more of a "feel-good" moment than a real one). This is not the first fictionalized movie about the Stonewall Rebellion.

Verdict: For a movie based on a real event and certain real characters, this seems rather unreal at times. But some viewers may well find it inspiring and powerful although it, unfortunately, seems to catalog a variety of stereotypes. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

I avoided seeing this because I heard so many negative things about it, but your overview makes me want to rethink that and give it a look. A movie doesn't have to be perfect for us to get something out of it, right?

William said...

Absolutely. It is a big disappointment but it has various interesting elements. (And if all else fails, at least the lead is eye candy.)

This just should not have been called "Stonewall" as the actual riot takes up only a few minutes' time and it's really just another small-town-gay-guy-comes-to-the-big-city movie. It might have gotten less negative comment if it had had a different title and treated the riot as just a positive post-script. Much of the criticism was centered on the drag queens not getting enough exposure, but they are certainly front and center -- including the second most important character, Ray/Ramona -- in the movie I saw. The diversity of the LGBT community almost made it a given that no one would be completely satisfied. As others have noted, the failure of the film is not something to gloat over, as it just means there will be far fewer mainstream LGBT films in the future.