In 1995, British director Nigel Finch told a story of the 1969 Stonewall riots with high spirits and low-keyed drama. Yet despite the advances in LGBT rights since then, a new version of the story, from the German-American director Roland Emmerich — known for muscular action movies like Independence Day — has a much more dismal demeanor. In fact, apart from a few moments of tenderness (i.e., sentimentality), this Stonewall is a joyless film, and decidedly sexophobic. Penned by the playwright Jon Robin Baitz, it seems to embrace the aphorism that if you begin with a stereotype, a full-bodied character will emerge. But with its underdeveloped and occasionally distasteful panoply of hustlers, drag queens and closeted pervs — created, nobly enough, to show the consequences of oppression, rejection and the closet — it lands far from paradise.
Emmerich cast recognizable actors — Matt Craven, Ron Perlman, Jonathan Rhys Meyers — as historic figures who never once seem real (Perlman’s villain especially so). Baitz’s tinny-cum-edifying script trades in melodrama and contrivance. The protagonist — a naïf from Indiana, thrown out by his coach-father for being gay, now in Manhattan to attend Columbia — is charming, though largely because actor Jeremy Irvine is. The result is a movie that you want but don’t need to be better because, in real life, things are.