Synopsis: A young man’s political awakening and coming of age during the days and weeks leading up to the Stonewall Riots.
Release Date: September 25, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
In the fifties and sixties, it was basically legal to discriminate against homosexual Americans; they could be fired from jobs, denied service in bars and restaurants, even arrested by the police simply for being gay. In 1969, a group of activists who hung out at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, had had enough of the bigotry, and they rioted. Stonewall is about these riots. Kind of.
The main character in Stonewall is Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine from Beyond the Reach), a young gay man who moves to New York after he is kicked out of his rural Indiana home when his parents discover his sexuality. The first person he meets in the city is a hustler named Ray (Jonny Beachamp from “Penny Dreadful”), who introduces Danny to his street family. Ray also introduces Danny to the Stonewall Inn, a mafia-run bar owned by Ed Murphy (Ron Perlman from “Sons of Anarchy”) where the homosexuals could feel relatively safe, despite frequent raids by Deputy Seymour Pine (Happy Birthday to Me‘s Matt Craven) and the local police. At the Stonewall, Danny meets Trevor (Velvet Goldmine‘s Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an activist working with a gay-rights group who encourages Danny to join the cause. Danny finds himself caught between Trevor and Ray, as well as between the street hustlers and the activists, until finally, the entire volatile situation erupts.
Those who know the true story of the Stonewall Riots are going to have problems with Stonewall. Historical inaccuracies aside, screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz (“Brothers & Sisters”) totally misses the real story, concentrating on Danny, a single fictional character, rather than focusing on the marginalized individuals who were really behind the movement. Stonewall attempts to privatize the gay rights struggle, and in doing so, it trivializes it. It doesn’t help that the characters, including Danny, are all annoying, one dimensional, heavy-handed stereotypes for whom the audience really feels absolutely no empathy. Add to that the sympathetic portrayal of key figures who are supposed to be antagonists, and Stonewall just ends up being an unsatisfying film.
Stonewall is an interesting choice of projects for director Roland Emmerich, the man behind disaster epics like Independence Day, White House Down, and The Day After Tomorrow. One would think that, with Emmerich at the helm, Stonewall would focus on the more, uh, explosive aspects of the story. But, instead of a politically charged, emotionally draining thriller, Stonewall is just a typical coming-of-age, fish-out-of-water tale, and not even a very good one at that. Even the one scene that Emmerich should have been able to slam dunk – the actual riot – is disappointingly bland.
There are things to like about Stonewall – the technical aspects of the film are solid, the performances are alright, and the soundtrack is absolutely groovy. Its failure as a movie falls squarely on the dispassionate script, and Emmerich’s inability to translate that script into a sustainable movie. Stonewall is a waste of a good true-life premise, and Roland Emmerich should stick to blowing stuff up.
Cinematographer Markus Förderer (I Origins, Hell) does some fascinating things with Stonewall. For much of the movie, he captures the natural look of the settings, be it the urban streets of Greenwich Village or the rural fields of Indiana. For a handful of scenes, however, Förderer gets creative, and the results are nightmarish. For example, in one scene after Danny has just been outed as gay to his father (who is also his high school football coach), the boy is summoned to the coach’s office. The school hallways through which Danny walks are darkened, with motivated light spilling in from windows and perpendicular hallways, not enough to light it fully, but enough to make it look dreary and foreboding – like Danny is making his way through a surreal horror movie set. Scenes shot inside the Stonewall Inn are treated in a similar way, lit brightly enough to see the occupants, but still dark enough to communicate the uneasy fact that the bar could get raided at any second. Förderer accurately captures the fear and anxiety that the characters in Stonewall deal with on a daily basis, and he does it with just a few lighting tricks.
The most successful aspect of Stonewall is, far and away, the music. The soundtrack is made up of a bunch of popular songs from the era, tunes by artists like Thunderclap Newman, The Isley Brothers, and The Staple Singers. It’s not just background music, either; the songs are used in a way that helps tell the story. For example, during Danny’s first trip to the Stonewall Inn, Ray saunters over to the jukebox and plays Shocking Blue’s “Venus,” a song which makes all of the drag queens hoot, holler, and dance. Trevor, after laying eyes on Danny, interrupts the party and brings it down by punching up Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” – a ballad – on the juke. Trevor uses the song to seduce Danny, both physically and emotionally. It’s an important moment in the film – it signifies Ray losing his hold on Danny, and Danny being convinced to join Trevor’s movement. The songs in the film aren’t there just because they were hits; each one serves a purpose. The music in Stonewall provides some The Big Chill-like nostalgia while still remaining relevant to the story.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Roland Emmerich
- Producer(s): Roland EmmerichMichael FossatMarc FrydmanCarsten H.W. Lorenz
- Screenwriter(s): Jon Robin Baitz
- Cast: Jeremy Irvine (Danny)Jonny Beauchamp (Ray/Ramona)Ron Perlman (Ed Murphy) Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Trevor)Joey King (Phoebe)Matt Craven (Deputy Seymour Pine)Caleb Landry Jones (Orphan Annie)Karl Glusman (Joe Altman)David Cubitt (Coach Winters)Atticus Dean Mitchell (Matt)Andrea Frankle (Joyce Winters)Mark Camacho (Fat Tony)
- Editor(s): Adam Wolfe
- Cinematographer: Markus Förderer
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Simonetta Mariano
- Casting Director(s): Kerry BardenPaul Schnee
- Music Score: Rob Simonsen
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA