A lot of bricks are being thrown at Stonewall, and with good reason. The film has been savagely attacked by critics for whitewashing the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a pivotal turning point for the LGBTQ rights movement in the U.S. Beyond that, it’s been hit by several boycotts and grossed a paltry $839 per theatre in its opening weekend.
But despite using its blonde, blue-eyed “straight-acting” lead (Danny played by Jeremy Irvine) as an avatar for the Stonewall experience, and being directed by Roland Emmerich of Independence Day, 2012 and White House Down, Stonewall is not a disaster — it’s a campy, misguided mess. Laughable, even.
Stonewall is a fictional account of the LGBTQ landscape in New York in the late 60s. Danny gets kicked out of the house in Indiana after his parents discover the truth about his burgeoning sexuality. Quickly, he finds himself in New York on Christopher Street, and meets Ray/Ramona (Jonny Beauchamp) a flamboyant transgender activist who welcomes him to the community with a protective, loving hand. Now a part of this ragtag group of hustlers, drag queens and misunderstood young gay men, Danny seeks refuge at the Stonewall Inn, the only place in the area that will allow people like him inside… and will serve them alcohol without a licence. The downside? It’s owned by the mob (insert villainous Ron Perlman here) and subjected to frequent raids by crooked cops.
Toss in a flirtatious May-December relationship between Danny and the politically-minded Trevor (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), and some conflict over whether Danny will lose his football scholarship to Columbia because he is not able to finish high school… and you have yourself a story. Or something.
The movie’s representation of drag queens and gay activists is cartoony and over-the-top. No character is truly fleshed out, and any gay person over 30 has a predatory vibe. Other members of the gay community are not allies – they’re enemies. Straight people cannot be trusted either, because they don’t understand the struggle. While Stonewall shows some of the horrors of growing up gay in the 60s (police brutality and being “forced” into prostitution are among them), it also demonizes the experience, and you still do not feel the visceral outrage that Danny does… which leads to him chucking the first brick at the inn.
It’s a patronizing, low-budget feature that takes away from the impact of the riots, but its stars are still behind it. They still believe in it – and they’re proud of the movie, and of getting it on the big screen at all.
The film premiered at TIFF, and Jeremy and Jonny made themselves very available for interviews, giving up 15 to 20 minutes per outlet. Like their director Roland, they’ve both defended the film ad nauseum on social media and in-person. According to Jeremy, no studio wanted a part of this movie, and it was nearly impossible to get this film off the ground. They could not even film in New York. Instead, they had to use a soundstage in Montreal. You can tell, too. But in spite of its many inaccuracies, Jeremy and Jonny believe the film does its job, and that it educates the audience about the origins of Pride, and how, still, 40 per cent of all homeless youth identify as being LGBTQ. That stat has been referenced in most of their interviews.
Normally, when actors are part of a bomb, they want to forget about it as soon as possible. That’s not the case here. The movie is borderline offensive and hardly convincing, but it’s easier to stomach when viewed as a campy romp, or an LGBTQ Zardoz, as opposed to a play-by-play bible of exactly what went down on that fateful night in 1969.