Here’s a new rule. Run like hell any time disaster flick maestro Roland Emmerich announces another of his new films as “personal.” Four years ago, he tried to take down the authorship of William Shakespeare with the reckless, historically gonzo but very nicely made Anonymous. That was personal, he said. What, did Hamlet puke on his cornflakes or something? Now, the maker of the schlockfests The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and 2012 gifts the world with Stonewall, his clunky, ineptly made, eye-rolling awful but well meant drama about the real-life events that sparked the 1969 NYC riots at the Stonewall Inn that helped birth of the queer civil rights movement.
How rancid is this movie, made by a gay man as a labor of love? It makes Emmerich’s knee-slapper Godzilla look like an undiscovered masterpiece. Almost everything that could go wrong does. First, the screenplay by Tony nominated playwright Jon Robin Baitz (Other Desert Cities) is a Wizard of Oz-ish coming of age movie in which a bland super-white Midwestern football jock (Jeremy Irvine, don’t blame him) Ken doll gets thrown out of his house like a tornado by his hateful parents for sexing up with a fellow football player. He flees to Gotham to find love, romance and freedom, gets mocked (the locals call him “Kansas”), gets victimized by johns and hustlers, gets seduced by a predatory older guy from the Mattachine Society (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, going for the creep factor), and eventually becomes a part time hustler who, at the end of his rope, hurls a brick and yells, “Gay Power!” From the way the moment is filmed to the way the line gets uttered, he might as well be shouting – or singing – everything is awesome. It’s an embarrassing, laugh out loud scene and a slap in the eye to the people who actually lived a big historical moment and finally fought back against the stunned police all dressed up in their riot gear drag.
Emmerich seems to have cast the movie almost exclusively with shamelessly mugging, shiny-faced wannabes who appear to think they’re auditioning for touring companies of Footloose and Rent. That’s part of the movie’s aesthetic, though, because Stonewall so lacks grit or substance, it’s so bright and cartoony, the action feels like it’s being played live on stage in The Little Shop of Horrors. Wait up, you say. Wasn’t the ferocity of the Stonewall movement spurred by drag queens, lesbians, trannies and people of color? Yep. Only not in this movie. Audiences ought to be hurling bricks at the screen.