Magazine article Newsweek

Milk

Magazine article Newsweek

Milk

Article excerpt

Byline: David Ansen

Directed by Gus Van Sant. Starring Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna. Opened Nov. 26.

How many politicians could you describe as fun? Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the country, and the subject of Gus Van Sant's intimate, stirring "Milk," was a potent mixture of sweetness and chutzpah, idealism and opportunism, playfulness and ambition. He may have put on a suit and tie to run, but he never clipped his queer wings to mollify straight voters. A skinny, mouthy New Yorker, he abandoned his humdrum 9-to-5 job in the early '70s, and with his hippie lover, Scott Smith, headed for the wilder shores of San Francisco, just as gay political power was beginning to raise its fist. Campaigning out of his camera store in the Castro, building coalitions between the growing gay community, the local merchants and the Teamsters, Milk lost three elections before he finally became a city supervisor in 1977. The following year he and Mayor George Moscone would be assassinated by fellow board member Dan White.

Milk has become a political martyr, but Van Sant's movie doesn't try to oversell its hero. As Sean Penn plays him, the pioneering activist remains resolutely life-size: mischievous, gregarious, committed, but always fallibly human. Penn's metamorphosis into Harvey is miraculous, all the more so because there's nothing showy about it, even though Milk had a showman's flair. "I'm Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you!" he yells through his bullhorn at campaign rallies, mocking the enemies who thundered about sinister homosexuals recruiting youths into the persuasion. …

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