Magazine article Variety

Stonewall

Magazine article Variety

Stonewall

Article excerpt

TORONTO

Stonewall

DIRECTOR: Roland Emmerich

STARRING: Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp

Best known for such spectacledriven blockbusters as "2012" and "The Day After Tomorrow," Roland Emmerich has made his reputation exploiting audience's anxieties over what the future may hold. With "Stonewall," the openly gay director opts to engage with a more intimate real-world crisis, using the sheer dynamism of 1969's historic Greenwich Village uprising as a platform to address the epidemic of homelessness among LGBT youth, past and present. While it's encouraging to see such a subject treated with the same grandiosity afforded alien invasions, particularly at a moment when gay rights hold such currency, representationstarved audiences deserve more than this problematic collection of stereotypes, which lacks the galvanizing power of such recent we-shall-overcome triumphs as "Selma" or "Milk," and won't draw anywhere near their numbers.

This isn't the first time Emmerich has stepped away from mega-budget studio pictures to tackle more personal material, though critics came with their knives pre-sharpened for 2011's "Anonymous." With "Stonewall," skeptics swooped in to preemptively scold the film for "whitewashing" the Christopher St. riots, after an early trailer revealed how Jon Robin Baitz's screenplay invents a straight-acting Caucasian hero (played by "War Horse's" Jeremy Irvine) to throw the first brick, potentially marginalizing the diverse trans activists who led the uprising.

But let's be fair: "Stonewall" is no disaster, and to all those waiting to tear it apart, perhaps the best that can be said is that Emmerich's film is neither as bad nor as insensitive as predicted, though its politics certainly are problematic - especially as regards its lead character, who might as well be straight, so far removed are his concerns from everyone else in the ensemble. After briefly teasing the riots, the story flashes back three months to small-town Indiana, where Irvine's all-American Danny Winters runs afoul of his football-coach father (David Cubitt) after some of his teammates catch him fooling around with the high-school quarterback. Coming home to find his bags packed, Danny leaves for New York, where the Columbia-bound student had been headed all along.

Baitz's emotional-wallop stage plays may have twice put him in the Pulitzer Prize finalists' circle (for "A Fair Country" and "Other Desert Cities"), but here, he's none too subtle about what the West Village's Sheridan Square means to Danny, who stumbles around the downsized (but otherwise accurate) intersection looking as dazed as Dorothy did upon her arrival to Oz. He's rescued by resident scare queen Ray, AKA Ramona (Jonny Beauchamp), a flamboyantly effeminate Puerto Rican with long hair and handmade ladies' costumes.

Danny may be the audience's uneasy proxy in this wild, full-color picture, but Ray serves as both its heart and soul - a charismatic ambassador for the travails and triumphs the multi-culti trans community faced at the time. While it was Emmerich's agenda to address America's LGBT homeless problem via the Stonewall situation, Baitz responds with the inspired notion of treating the story as a dysfunctional family drama - where "family" refers less to the biological bigots who reject their own nonconformist kid than to the scrappy replacement community that forms around the runaways, outcasts and hustlers who came together that fateful summer. …

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