2015, PG-13, 129 min. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Starring Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Joey King, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ron Perlman, Caleb Landry Jones, Matt Craven, Karl Glusman, Otoja Abit, Richard Jutras, David Cubitt, Andrea Frankle.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 25, 2015
It’s certainly a novelty that this fictionalized account of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that helped ignite the modern era of LGBT Pride has been directed by Roland Emmerich, a Hollywood filmmaker who’s best-known for helming disaster pictures such as Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and White House Down. Stonewall also arrives with a pedigreed script by two-time Pulitzer nominee Jon Robin Baitz. However, it’s the film’s total lack of novelty that causes it to misfire and become if not a total disaster, then at least a narrative flop.
Stonewall uses a device common to films set against historical backgrounds by anchoring the story in a naive protagonist who’s a newcomer on the scene. Danny (Irvine) arrives on New York’s famed Christopher Street fresh from Indiana, which he fled because of his homosexual proclivities. He’s been shunned by his dad (Cubitt), the high school football coach, and denied by his former suck buddy, Joe (Glusman), the team quarterback. Instantly, Danny falls in with a ragtag gang of transgender hustlers and vagabonds who live hand to mouth (so to speak) and show him the ropes. In particular, Ray/Ramona (Beauchamp, in a strong performance) takes Danny under her wing, and introduces him to the bars and the Stonewall Inn, a mob-run hangout (like most of the gay bars of the time) for drag queens, trans men and women, gay prostitutes, and runaways. Danny, who hopes to start at Columbia University in the fall if he can get his parents to sign his scholarship paperwork, is so white-bread that he can only accept Ray’s friendship while rejecting her fantasies for their domesticated bliss. Danny eventually hooks up with Trevor (Rhys Meyers), a member of the Mattachine Society, the male gay rights organization of the Fifties and Sixties that advocated acceptance and social integration.
Although the Stonewall revolt is condensed into one night of rioting rather than the several nights that actually occurred, historical accuracy is less the film’s problem than its ham-handed narrative arc and dialogue. Nothing occurs in the movie that can’t be predicted in advance. Maybe Stonewall will have more value to younger viewers for whom the riots and gay marginalization in general are distant history and might be vivified by watching the film. Yet even though the film’s heart seems genuine, its structure is buttressed by falsies.
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Stonewall, Roland Emmerich, Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Joey King, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ron Perlman, Caleb Landry Jones, Matt Craven, Karl Glusman, Otoja Abit, Richard Jutras, David Cubitt, Andrea Frankle