Stonewalled: History gets buried in 'Stonewall' (REVIEW)

Fri. September 18, 2015 5:02 AM by Gregg Shapiro

The late Nigel Finch's 1995 film Stonewall, based on Martin Duberman's acclaimed book with a screenplay by Ricki Beadle Blair, might have been flawed, but it's a far better movie than the new Stonewall (Roadside Attractions), directed by gay director Roland Emmerich, featuring a screenplay by gay playwright Jon Robin Baitz. Even before its release, the film was creating a stir because of the supposed lack of minority representation within the cast. In all honesty, that's small potatoes in comparison to the way that the movie doesn't think that the subject of the Stonewall Inn is compelling enough on its own. Instead, it's bogged down by the story of a gay kid escaping small-town Indiana to come to the big, bad city to be who he is. He's cute, but he's just not that interesting.

In June 1969, with homosexuality still against the law and classified as a mental illness, fresh-faced lost sheep Danny (Jeremy Irvine) arrives in New York's West Village with a hastily packed suitcase and big plans for attending Columbia University in the fall. He left his rural Midwestern home earlier than planned after his homophobic high school football coach father discovered that Danny and the team's star player Joe (Karl Glusman) have been huddling together off the field.

Landing in Sheridan Square, near the Stonewall Inn, Danny meets trans hustler Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), aka Ramona, and his queer crew, including the legendary Marsha P. Johnson (Otoja Abit) and gay rights advocate Bob Kohler. Swept up in the scene Danny has a variety of new, exciting and terrifying experiences, including being paid for sex, bar raids, getting beaten up by cops and being romanced by hot gay activist Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).

With his future plans becoming increasingly fuzzy – his Columbia scholarship is at risk of being rescinded because he left school early and his father is in control of his paperwork – Danny is torn. Does he join Ray and the world of the streets or follow Trevor and his activist circle, including Frank Kameny of the Mattachine Society? Of course, the night of the June 28, 1969 Stonewall raid changes his life forever.

To its credit, Stonewall includes a fascinating section about the bar's bouncer/manager Ed Murphy (Ron Perlman) who procured hustlers for high profile folks such as a cross-dressing J. Edgar Hoover. Because of his mob and pimping connections and blackmail activities, Murphy is presented as the main focus of Deputy Seymour Pine's (Matt Craven) primary motivation for raiding the bar.

The biggest problem is that we've seen some of this before in the aforementioned 1995 Stonewall movie. The bummer is that the history of the Stonewall bar itself gets buried in the excess. Maybe someone somewhere will finally make a movie about the Stonewall that is deserving of the title. As they say, the third time's the charm.

Editor's Note: Stonewall screens on Sept. 20, 7 p.m. at Landmark Century as part of Reeling 2015: The Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival.

Related: Roland Emmerich talks about causing a riot with his Stonewall movie