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First Reviews: ‘Stonewall’ Is ‘An Embarrassing Punishment of a Film’

First Reviews: 'Stonewall' Is 'An Embarrassing Punishment of a Film'

Review embargoes are funny things. Critics who’ve already seen “Stonewall,” Roland Emmerich’s movie about the 1969 riots that kick-started the modern gay-rights movement, agreed in advance not to review the movie before Monday. But critics who saw it this morning at the Toronto International Film Festival are free to reveal their opinions, as will be the several thousand ticketholders who see the film at a public screening tonight. Embargoing a movie like “Stonewall” until the Monday before opening is usually a sign of a studio bracing for the worst, although the movie has already been the subject of ample controversy sight unseen for its apparent decision to feature a white, conventionally masculine character in the leading role and downplay the role of trans women and black drag queens in starting the uprising. The film itself apparently does little to assuage that concern, although at least a handful of critics seem to feel that “Stonewall” is in for more of a shellacking than it might actually deserve. (In other words, it’s bad, but it’s not that bad.) Here’s the initial word on the film.

Henry Barnes, Guardian

“Stonewall” has been billed as the story of a young gay man’s political awakening, but Danny — the sweet-natured wally — takes an age to stir himself. Along his path to revolution he’s beaten by the police, forced to turn tricks for money, lost in love (in the form of a Mattachine Society campaigner played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and pulled sharply out of it again before he even considers his civil rights. Ray, given some grace by Beaucoup, despite the character’s hysteria, races around him screaming about the need to respect their adopted family. The riots are tucked away in the last 20 minutes, delivered almost as an after-thought to Danny’s character development….

It’s still difficult for gay cinema to pass into the mainstream. Emmerich, who put his own money into making the film, should be cheered for giving it a shot. Unfortunately the compromises he’s made leave “Stonewall” feeling neutered. A member of the Mattachine Society makes a speech about how gay men should assimilate. “Wearing a suit and tie will make them realize they’re just like you,” he says. “Stonewall” tries the same trick. By trying to disguise itself as a coming-of-age romance, it hides the real story underneath.

Aren Bergstom, Toronto Film Scene

From Jeremy Irvine’s whitebread protagonist whose motivations wildly vacillate scene to scene to the underwritten (and fictional) hustlers that dominate the film’s focus to the weak portrayal of the violently homophobic police, “Stonewall” is a dreadful miscalculation. Why the filmmakers chose to insert fictional protagonists into a narrative filled with fascinating, important historical figures is baffling. The end result is a whitewashed, soap opera version of a milestone in American civil rights.

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