Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. USA, . . Screenplay by . Cinematography by . Produced by , , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by . Podcast: Bad Gay Movies. Toronto International Film Festival 2015.
Roland Emmerich ignores the charming, low-budget 1995 feature on the same subject and makes a large-scale film meant to the final word in dramatizing the Stonewall riots. The law in 1969 forbade the selling of alcohol to homosexuals, which meant that watering holes that catered to said clientele were vulnerable to constant raids from the police, but in the early hours of June 28, the patrons of the titular bar had been arrested one too many times and decided they were not going to take it anymore. The five nights of violence and protest could have made a great film on their own, but for some reason Emmerich’s film involves the ludicrous decision to tell everything from the point of view of a young All-American white boy from Indiana (played by ) who arrives in the Big Apple after being rejected by his religious family. In the months leading up to June of 1969, Irvine makes friends with a group of scrappy youngsters who favour anarchy, and with whom he survives on the streets, then befriends an older, politically-committed activist ( ) who stresses the need to resist oppression in an organized and respectable manner. Irvine is, in this unnecessarily complicated screenplay, waiting for his parents to hopefully sign the papers that will allow him to accept a scholarship at Columbia University, which is at odds with his growing interest in toppling the order that is keeping him a second-class citizen. There’s no denying that Emmerich’s white-washing the story (literally) and presenting the beginning of the riots as having been inspired by this mainstream fictional character, pushing characters like Marsha P. Johnston into the background, is offensive, but it’s not in the least bit surprising; after his vapid mind insulted the history of slavery (The Patriot) and literature (Anonymous) it can’t possibly raise one’s heartbeat to note that he also rearranges this important moment in human rights in a manner that suits his pursuit of box office gold. Adding injury to insult, however, is the fact that the whole thing is so dreary: Irvine’s character should leave his limited community back home and come find freedom in the big city, but all his experiences are either stressful or miserable, he can’t even enjoy sex without being anxious, while the supporting characters have no life and seem about as bored as he is. If the intention was to show a group of people who can’t enjoy their lives because of social prejudice, that’s a pretty simplistic view of things given that the riots were more likely inspired by people who were daring to enjoy their lives despite the intolerance they lived with on a regular basis. Between the weak execution of the central moments, the unnecessary flashbacks to Irvine’s life in Indiana (which the film can do without) and the unclear depiction of what role the mafia ownership of the Stonewall Inn had to play, you have a film that have a confused mess that is not worth watching.