“You ran away? You got kicked out? You feel lost? Welcome to New York!” is the welcoming line that takes us down to Christopher street in Greenwich village, where it all started.
Danny (Jeremy Irvine), a young teenager who just escaped family and hometown after his peers discover he is a homosexual, arrives in New York City to study at Columbia. Only that Danny’s nature brings him straight to the right place. The gay, lesbian and trans dominated streets of Greenwich village in downtown NYC become his new home when he accidentally meets Ray (Johnny Beauchamp). He introduces him to a gang of trans and gay men struggling to survive in the streets of New York and all fighting for better future.
While Danny desperately tries to get his scholarship papers signed in time for the new academic year, he is dipped into a world he’d never experienced before. As a country boy, coming from a conservative family, he is challenged with accepting the extravagance of NYC’s lifestyle, and even further, he is called to defend his identity and fight for equality in a far more hostile and cruel environment.
Raised in a patriarchal family and with a father who couldn’t see further than his provincial reputation, Danny grew up believing that homosexuality shall be treated as an illness and his teenage love for childhood friend Joe, which turned into a secret affair, finally became the reason for his departure. Unable to support himself financially, Danny ends up sharing a shabby motel room with the rest of Joe’s gang, all hitting the streets of New York during the day, looking for clients that will subsidise hopes for a better tomorrow.
At his first visit to Stonewall, the ultimate local gay hub, Danny meets the mysterious activist Trevor (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who participates in a campaign alongside a more sophisticated gay community. Following the activities of both Trevor’s campaign and the more boisterous street boys he lives with, Danny has to pick a side.
Flashbacks from his early teenagehood and the tyrannic days at school, where films on homosexuality’s illegal character are thriving, are Emmerich’s way of untangling the young boy’s motivations that will essentially result in decision making. The lack of a strong and supportive father figure is now reflected in Danny’s strong emotional bond with the Christopher street boys, who instantly become the substitute of a family. But Trevor represents the personal liberation and the unfulfilled desire that Danny’s left-behind teenage love could never become.
Emmerich, openly gay himself, finally gets the chance to direct a story closer to his heart and succeeds in making it loud, colourful, engaging and even a tear-soaked experience. The film uses certain facts and several real characters to step upon, but in its core remains a fictional story and should be seen that way. It is definitely not a biopic on a Stonewall riots hero or a documentary, but rather a very personal and insightful story that touches upon a great moment in gay rights history without spoiling an overall well performed cinematic experience.
The three months that lead up to a life changing day for many, the day that marked the beginning of the Stonewall riots, is also a chance for Danny to reinvent himself, to become fully aware of who he really is or who he wants to be. Sadly, even today, the bullying, the family rejection, the vulnerability and even the marginalisation, is not a choice for many LGBT men and women around the world. And, fair enough, Emmerich made Stonewall not as a proof for his pride, but for all these people to see and get inspired. Having directed mainly Hollywood blockbusters like The day after tomorrow and 2012, it is hard to totally get rid of some cliched, glittery choices, but they get lost in a masterfully shot piece that, taking into account the magnificent wardrobe and sound dressing, could had been easily taken straight from Broadway.
"Stonewall" by Roland Emmerich (USA)
Toronto Film Festival - Official Selection
Name: Martin I. Petrov