Movie News & Reviews

Movie review: Stereotypes spoil story of activism in ‘Stonewall’

Otoja Abit, Vladimir Alexis, Jonny Beauchamp, Jeremy Irvine, Caleb Landry Jones and Alexandre Nachi in Roadside Attractions' “Stonewall.”
Otoja Abit, Vladimir Alexis, Jonny Beauchamp, Jeremy Irvine, Caleb Landry Jones and Alexandre Nachi in Roadside Attractions' “Stonewall.”

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.

The real problem is that its narrative inventions embrace every wrong cliche, 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, best known for the shamelessly enjoyable digital-effects schlockbusters “Independence Day” and “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.

In “Stonewall” Baitz hangs the story, based on Emmerich’s outline, on the coming-out saga of incoming Columbia University freshman Danny, a fictional hunk (Jeremy Irvine) who flees small-town Indiana life in the closet for the exotic streets of Greenwich Village.

Danny’s a newcomer among the community of homeless “scare queens” (drag queens without money, living on or very near the streets) who offer various forms of solace and comfort. Jonny Beauchamp plays Ray/Ramona, his lovelorn bestie; Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the stealthy, vaguely predatory gay rights activist who becomes Danny’s lover and whose apartment overlooks the Stonewall Inn. Otoja Abit takes on one of the script’s real-life players, transgender drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, whom many credit with being the first to fight back at the club-wielding police outside the Stonewall. (Hardly any photographic evidence exists from that night.)

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? Where’s the real life in this slice of wholly American protest history?

Stonewall

1/2

Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Jonny Beauchamp, Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Director: Roland Emmerich

Length: 129 minutes

Rating: R (sexual content, language throughout, some violence and drug use)

Theaters

Raleigh: Colony. Roxboro: Palace Pointe.

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