'Stonewall' Is Bad. It's a Bad Movie, Bad History, Just. Plain. Bad.
By this point, you probably either have no idea that Stonewall the movie exists, or you have spent the last few days poring over every terrible review because right now that’s pretty much the best entertainment on the internet. Now, occasionally (or, if we’re being honest, more than occasionally) the internet reacts to trailers with an outrage that is totally disproportionate to the actual film. (Ricki and the Flash, I’m looking at you.) Sure, the trailer may seem to reduce a subject to its most boring, whitewashed, generic imagined components, but the final product itself surprises you, and ends up being so much more than you ever expected.
Stonewall is not that movie. Let’s just get that out in the open, right from the start. Really, it’s barely even a movie. This is a terrible, laughable-if-it-weren’t-so-upsetting impression of a movie. Even if it had been called Midwest Danny, and not named after— and therefore presumed to depict an event and subsequent movement at least somewhat accurately— it would have been awful, full of predictable blandness and one-dimensional characters presenting up their backstories and detailed motivations at a moment’s notice.
But the movie wasn’t called Midwest Danny, it was called Stonewall. And while no one thought this was a documentary, it DID present itself as the story of a very important true event. And friends, let me tell you, it fucking destroyed that story. This movie took the CliffsNotes by way of a heavily edited Wikipedia entry of an important moment in history, glanced at them, ripped them up and swallowed them, then vomited them back up all over a shiny fake backlot set of a New York that never actually existed outside of the blandest possible community theater production of Rent. If you were thinking about going to this movie to see the events surrounding the Stonewall riots of 1969, for whatever reason— if you are a young LGBT person wanting to see the stories that came before you; if you were a part of that community, and want to see your or you peers’ stories on the screen; if you know nothing of the history and want to learn— this movie is garbage and it will not give you what you want.
This is a movie that, yes, is insulting for even just a regular lover of movies. If you spent 14 or hopefully fewer dollars to see Stonewall, you were ripped off. But it is even more insulting if you expect it to be a depiction of actual events, a community, or a movement. The Stonewall Inn, the setting for the movie, was a gathering place for the most marginalized ‘mentally ill’ ‘sexual deviants’ of the time. It was a club for hustlers, drag queens, trans women of color. These were the faces at the forefront of the movement that burst forth when the bar was raided one too many times and riots erupted. But if Stonewall the movie is to be believed, there is only one hero to this story, and he is a young midwestern kid who could easily pass for a leader of the Hitler Youth. Everyone else is sidelined to (at best) obscurity or (at worst) villainy. Gay prostitutes, older gay men, every straight person (oh, except our protagonist’s sister, Phoebe (Fargo’s Joey King), who YES, IS shown at one point reading a JD Salinger book because ROLAND EMMERICH IS NOT EXACTLY SUBTLE OKAY, BUT HE HAS A LOT OF FEELINGS) —everyone but Danny (Jeremy Irvine), our midwest blond savior, is a land mine of sin or a cautionary tale of, well, more sin. Even Ray (or, once or twice, Ramona, and wouldn’t it have been great if they’d actually taken a moment to explore what gender fluidity could be), played the best anyone could have by Jonny Beauchamp, whose entire purpose is to show Danny the ropes and also be in unrequited love with him, is nothing more than a foil to highlight what Danny is not. Danny, you see, has hope. Or even if he doesn’t have it, we have it for him. He’s blond, strong-jawed, and his only gay experience has been TRUE LOVE, so he hasn’t really done anything wrong. Yes, in a movie about gay rights and gay history, being gay is somehow still implicitly shameful. At least it is if you do it wrong or too much. In fact, much like a teenage girl in a horror movie, Danny’s innocence is his #1 characteristic. He may as well be the Jon Snow of 1960s New York for all the times people remind him how little he knows. The hooligans he hangs around with (mostly “composite characters,” which really only seems like a term thrown on to allow Emmerich to do whatever the hell he wants, but also including the magnificent Marsha P. Johnson, later a co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries who is wonderfully if sometimes over-comically portrayed by Otoja Abit) are thieving prostitutes, only there to show what Danny could turn into if he’s not careful, and if he doesn’t quickly rise above the community he’s supposed to represent. Because Danny? He’s our hero. He survives A WHOLE SUMMER in New York (he’s basically like everyone else who’s spent years, if not their lives, on Christopher Street, right?), spends a couple nights sleeping on the street, gets rescued by a rich dude who somehow has an even stronger jaw than he does, goes to Stonewall TWICE, then is enough of a symbol of the culture to literally throw the first brick of the riot. A brick which was handed to him by a black trans/fluid character.
Oh, and if you’re thinking something along the lines of “This is Roland Emmerich, the guy behind Independence Day and The Patriot. No one’s expecting him to tell a good story— it’s all about the action,” you should know that the entire riot takes about five minutes before jumping an entire year into the future. Five minutes of cops being barricaded inside the bar, trying to keep out the angry patrons, instead of the other way around (as it happened). Five minutes of police beatings and brick throwing that was actually a GOOD THING, because wouldn’t you know it, right at the moment the police showed up, our midwestern hero was about to be KILLED BY THE MOB. (Ron Perlman, playing that one role he does.) Basically, five minutes of pure ridiculousness to cap off the previous 100+ minutes of boring nonsense. Whatever you’re hoping to get from this movie, look elsewhere. It is boring, bland badness from start to finish. The characters are at best forgettable and inconsequential, and at worst completely insulting. As a film, it cannot stand on its own, and as a history, it erases the contributions of the actual participants, replacing them with a figure Emmerich seemed to think was more “accessible,” but really turned out to be a pile of dust somewhat resembling a human man.
Vivian Kane will feel really bad if you go see this movie. She only wants good things for you. Please don’t see it. Just… please no.
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