29 December 2008

without a doubt, milk is helmed by a terrific cast. there isn't a single cast member who doesn't perform ably. and without a doubt, this film tells a supremely interesting story, an incredibly important one for u.s.-american white middle class gay history. and without a doubt, harvey milk and his collaborators are extremely passionate about their work. so how come this movie turned out to be so incredibly dull? and how could a story as passionate as this one about people so devoutly committed to a cause come across on screen as so dispassionate?

now i certainly don't think milk is at all a bad movie, but i expected that i would enjoy it so much more than i did. the problem here doesn't lie in the acting. sean penn is really terrific, as one might expect. and the problem doesn't really lie in the screenwriting or directing. they are equally skilled (as one might expect). the problem for me lies in the fact that everything here is exactly what one might expect. there is nothing out of the ordinary, nothing surprising, nothing to help the story emerge out of utter tedium.

perhaps the real problem is that i just don't enjoy biopics all that much. i just find this sort of a movie so cliched and formulaic. it's almost as if when you watch these movies you can write it along in your head as the images come across on screen. (i.e. okay, here's the part where the person struggles with inner torment. here's the part where she/he decides to make a change. here's the part where she/he works hard to make something of her/himself. here's the part where she/he finally achieves what she/he set out to do. etc). i really think that a biopic of harvey milk, such an iconoclastic yet idioyncrantic figure needed to break out of this mold. in short, there could have been SUCH a much better movie made about this man, especially when so many talented people are involved in making it.

when milk reaches its dramatic denouement after the inevitable assassination i somehow knew that i was supposed to feel really emotional about what i was seeing, but somehow i couldn't bring myself to experience any emotion at all. similarly, after harvey finally wins an election, the cast responds with such deep excitement at the accomplishment; yet, somehow i find it difficult to believe that anyone cares that much. it's like, yeah they are going through the motions of caring, but does anyone here really care? when all is said and done, it's like, i think everyone would be more than happy to let this whole political thing go and return to the party scene at any moment. the entire course of events in this movie comes off as something of a whim.

and so, i am left at the end of this movie asking the question: why can't anyone make a movie about gay people that seems to show any real understanding of what it feels like to be gay, with the exception of "having a good time?" yes, we've seen a hundred movies about gay party boys (even some good ones), but this was an opportunity to show another side of gay men, and i honestly think it failed to do so. there is more to gay men than coming out (beautiful thing, get real, broken hearts club), getting laid (bareback mountain, trick) and partying (party monster, 54). somehow, someone needs to make a gay movie that shows a more human side of gay communities. and milk isn't it.

not that there aren't some good aspects of this film. emile hirsch is one of the standouts, perhaps the only actor who, for me, instills any depth of character into the role he is playing. sean penn is terrific in the lead role, although in some ways i still think maybe he could have been better. and josh brolin is sort of surprisingly good at playing a character as enigmatic as dan white. also, i think that gus van sant did a really good job of recreating 1970s san francisco. i definitely feel like i have a good sense of what it must have been like to live in this place at this time.

in fact, i really don't think that i can point out a single detail of this film that i would describe as bad. just disatisfying. one of the sort of strange things though is that james franco is getting critical attention over josh brolin and emile hirsch. franco is without a doubt the least capable actor playing the smallest and least interesting character in the film. there's very little acting going on here.

in the end, i have already seen quite a few really terrific movies this year, and milk is certainly nothing like slumdog millionaire or others that i have found so eminently exciting. but i guess if i were in the mood for a nice nap, i might think about watching it again.
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