Monday, February 02, 2009

Review: Milk

Frankly, if it wasn't nominated for an Oscar, I don't think Milk would have played here in my provincial city. My buddy and I went to the Sunday matinee - there were only 4 other people in the theater. Granted, it was Super Bowl Sunday, but it was a remarkable contrast to last Sunday's packed screening of Slumdog Millionaire at the same time.

It's too bad for the puritans and footballers - because they are missing an incredible performance by Sean Penn. The film is based on the life of Harvey Milk, the so-called "Mayor of Castro Street" in San Francisco. Milk was the first openly gay office holder in California, a ground-breaking "community organizer" who changed the face of that state's politics. The film covers his political career, a promising career cut short by a bullet.

It was a great history lesson. I was only in junior high at the time, so I wasn't a part of the political arena. I'd forgotten about Anita Bryant, and how she almost single-handedly rolled back any civil rights gains that gays had attained. It seemed like it would happen, until activists on the grass-roots level in major cities began rallying and fighting the movement. Milk was one of the agitators in California, using his position on the SF Board of Supervisors to publicize his efforts. While winning supporters, he also alienated one of the other Supervisors, Dan White. White was in the process of being relieved of his duties when he took a loaded gun into City Hall, and shot and killed both Milk and the mayor. (I'd also forgotten that was the origin of the infamous "Twinkie Defense," with White's lawyers claiming he was nutty at the time due to eating too much junk food).

As I said at the top, Sean Penn is phenomenal in the role. He totally disappears into the character; at one point, I shook myself and had to remind myself that this was Penn. How he can not win the Oscar for best actor is beyond me. (Interestingly, my buddy said that although she loved the film, she never was able to see beyond Penn, never really bought him as Milk). The supporting cast is also wonderful. Especially noteworthy are Emil Hirsch (as Clete Jones, who went on to found the NAMES Quilt Project), Josh Brolin (as Dan White), my pal from HS Musical Lucas Grabeel, and the other young actors who play Milk's coterie. And I have to separate out James Franco. Franco has really progressed from his early "pretty boy" roles into a really good actor. He plays Milk's partner Scott with such sweetness and depth. Really terrific.

I really loved this film. It brought the times and the people to life in a real and unflinching way, helping those unfamiliar with those times to truly understand how far we've progressed. And yet, we still have a long way to go. Milk's message - to put a personal face on the gay rights movement, to ease the fears of the ignorant by making them see how "normal" non-heterosexuals are, to take the fight to a personal level - these are things we need to continue to do.

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Blogger Cyn said...

I believe that Miss Kelly and I will be going to see this on Friday. I'm glad you liked it! I can't wait to see it. I've seen the documentary about him and have been waiting for this film for years!

Randy Shilts' book about Harvey is one of my all-time favorites.

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