What a great movie. I saw it at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas in NY. Opening night. The audience was full of fellow homosexuals and they helped me boo at the end of a National Guard ad aimed at attracting young people. I felt like booing immediately and so did everybody else. The nerve on these people: to show an ad for an institution that condemns who we are right before the most gay-important movie of the year...
In Milk, Gus Van Sant tells us the story of Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US.
Early in the movie we see discrimination against Milk and unnamed gays -- we see gays being beaten up and harassed by the police and we see Milk shaking hands with a businessman who wipes off his hand right after touching the hand of a gay guy. Sick of living in a homophobic society, Milk takes matters in his own hands and starts to campaign for change; the campaigning takes place in the few street blocks around where he lived with his boyfriend in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, the hope was that the acceptance he'd be able to engender in those city blocks would spread throughout the country.
I was anxious to see this movie for many reasons but most of all because a good movie with a major gay theme comes by only once in a while (was Brokeback the last major gay themed movie before Milk?) -- when a gay movie like this does come by I feel like it needs to over-perform in order to get the greatest number of straight people into the theaters so that they can see we can actually be quite normal, if not heroic.Although I prefer a movie that shows us in the best light possible, I'm usually also fine with a movie that portrays us with our defects (or what can be perceived as defects). This is what this movie does. We show up in full form. We see Milk dazzling big crowds with forceful speeches, we see him successfully arguing our case before allies and enemies alike, we see young gays who are intelligent and relentless in the pursuit of equality -- but we also see Milk picking up a handsome young thing (James Franco, who so continues to amaze me with his performances that he has become my "protégé" since after Pineapple Express) in a NY subway in the beginning of the movie (the ease with which gays pick up other gays is usually seen as bad by society, I think -- envious bitches); we also see all sorts of gays in bad shape one way or another -- they can come ashamed and in the closet, suicidal, and they can come really fucked up in the head (like Jack, one of Milk's boyfriends -- played by Diego Luna).
I do think the movie (if seen as an ode to Milk's legacy) loses some of its force in its portrayal of Dan White (played by Josh Brolin).
A Dan who is disgusting and purely homophobic would have suited the hero-biography style better -- it would make things easier (good vs. evil). But this is not it. In the movie, Dan is an ordinary loser who feels like he needs to upstage Milk, and upstaged he can't be. Milk implies Dan is a closet case repressing his homosexual feelings and keeps constantly undermining Dan's political abilities (or lack thereof) -- I left the movie feeling like the assassination of Milk by Dan can be interpreted as more of a general mental instability by the ordinary loser, and not necessarily a mental instability that is gay focused and strictly homophobic. I'm yet to see The Times of Harvey Milk to see if that documentary sheds more light on that aspect of the story.
The movie is excellent and really grows on you -- I think I like it more now (a few days after I saw it) then right after it. I think the "Dan not really being that homophobic" got to me a bit, but that was erased by the memory of the many outstanding scenes the movie has to offer (like the scene in which Harvey Milk picks up Scott in the subway).
One last comment: I hate the 70's look; so, I think everybody looks fugly in the movie (but they sure can act -- the acting is excellent across the board).