Somehow, director Roland Emmerich has made a movie even less historically accurate than 10,000 BC, the one depicting Egyptian-style pyramids being constructed with the help of woolly mammoths.
But facts are not the problem with Stonewall. This is not a documentary, and it owes no one any kind of objectivity or documentary truth on its subject, only a vivid and persuasive fictionalized version of events.
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The real problem is that its narrative inventions embrace every wrong cliché, from the first word to the last speech of Jon Robin Baitz’s screenplay and in the desperate lack of nuance afflicting nearly every performance. Director Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow) begins each new scene in Stonewall with the knob at 11. He hammers the material home in a blunt, screechy style that falsifies even the supporting characters who really were there, in and around the gay bar run by the mob, raided once too often by the police and destined for gay-liberation and civil rights immortality.
President Barack Obama referenced the Stonewall Inn riots of late June 1969 in his second inaugural address. Now we have Emmerich’s well-meaning but hopelessly screwy melodrama to add to the Stonewall legacy.
Screenwriter Baitz has written some very good plays, for the record, The Substance of Fire among them. In Stonewall he hangs the story, based on Emmerich’s outline, on the coming-out saga of incoming Columbia University freshman Danny, a fictional hunk (played by Jeremy Irvine of War Horse) who flees small-town Indiana life in the closet for the exotic streets of Greenwich Village.
Because Stonewall turns everyone into a sentimental or suffocating “type” instead of a dimensional character, the results are sheer noise. Baitz has a way of stating the obvious here; when one key character starts monologuing about life in a “society hating and oppressing us for being gay,” it doesn’t sound like human speech spoken in the heat of an inflammatory moment. The film is plainly a meaningful project for the openly gay Emmerich and Baitz. Stonewall carries tremendous symbolic weight for millions the world over. So why this white-bread generica?
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Joey King, Caleb Landry Jones, Otoja Abit, Matt Craven, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ron Perlman.
Director: Roland Emmerich.
Screenwriter: Jon Robin Baitz.
A Roadside Attractions release. Running time: 129 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, brief violence, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Aventura, South Beach, Sunset Place; in Broward: Gateway.