It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Although handsomely crafted, well-acted and made with transparently noble intentions, Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” is a movie that seems destined to please almost no one. Its melodramatic plot and stereotypical characters presumably were employed with the hope of drawing a mainstream audience, which, nonetheless, is likely to find both either off-putting or risible. In so doing, the film misses the chance to offer an original artistic or sociopolitical take on the 1969 riots that sparked the U.S. gay rights movement.
Watching it, you have to wonder if someone during the movie’s story conferences didn’t say, “Hey, do we really have to focus the narrative on an impossibly good-looking Midwestern farm boy who comes to New York and gets swept up in the Greenwich Village gay scene? Wasn’t that done in a film called ‘Stonewall’ 20 years ago?”
Indeed it was, and two decades on, the idea is well past its expiration date. Here, the kid’s name is Danny (Jeremy Irvine), and throughout the film we get flashbacks to the troubles back home in Indiana that drove him to New York. His dad (David Cubitt) is a stern, crew-cut high school coach who suspects his son of “deviant” tendencies, even though Danny plays football and appears straight as an arrow. Caught hooking up with the hunky guy (Karl Glusman) he’s in love with, the high school senior becomes a laughingstock at school and a pariah at home. With a mom (Veronika Veradskaya) who can do nothing but wring her hands and a little sister (Joey King) who adores him no matter what, Danny realizes he’s in an impossible situation, so he hops a Greyhound to the Big Apple.
First stop once he’s there is the gay nucleus of Greenwich Village, which includes the scuzzy, Mafia-run Stonewall Inn, the only gay bar in the city that allows dancing. Here it must be noted that the film’s one area of unqualified triumph lies in the collaboration of production designer Michèle Laliberté and cinematographer Markus Förderer. Built on a soundstage in Montreal, the film’s sets—especially the gargantuan Sheridan Square re-creation—are atmospheric, impeccably executed and contribute greatly to the movie’s overall visual panache.