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Movie Review

‘Stonewall’ limits view of gay rights history

Jeremy Irvine (front right) in “Stonewall.” Philippe Bosse/Roadside Attractions

Nearly 50 years after the gay community in Greenwich Village rose up and rioted against police harassment and brutality, inspiring the Gay Liberation Movement, the country has gone through changes that no one at that time could ever imagine.

Hollywood, though, is a different story. Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” reduces these events to a backdrop for caricatures that were already passé in William Friedkin’s “The Boys in the Band” (1970).

Besides, the rioting is less important as a historical turning point (we’ll let the end titles sort that out) than as the backdrop for the coming out of Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine, who is so all-American he looks more like Tom Brady than Tom Brady). His mean father, the high school football coach, threw him out of the house when he was caught in delictu with the star quarterback. So, suitcase in hand, he ends up on Christopher Street.


There he spends about 45 minutes with his eyes popping out and jaw dropping at the spectacle of all the flamboyantly gay stuff going on. Such is innocence — and the power of a creative mind that lacks all nuance or historical sense. For example, it seems that in the ’60s gay people dressed like a cross between the casts of “Hair” and “Cats,” and all the homophobes wore horn-rimmed glasses or narrow-brimmed hats, or both.

At first intimidated, Danny finds friends among the gay hustlers, though some, like Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), want to be more than friends. He also becomes politicized by Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a member of the stodgy proto gay rights Mattachine Society, who also wants to be more than a friend. It seems that everyone here has a one- track mind.

Jealous spats and miserabilist one-upmanship fill the long wait for the (surprisingly for Emmerich) feeble 10 minutes of rioting. Also, the Mafioso Stonewall owner Ed Murphy (Ron Perlman) hovers around menacingly and corrupt cops beat up gay people.


There’s your historical context. That kind of stuff makes the meek Danny mad. So mad he wants to smash things, which he does a la Mookie in “Do the Right Thing” (1989). Danny says it feels good to be mad. If he’s right, this might be the feel-good movie of the year.

Peter Keough can be reached at