Friday, February 13, 2009
I'm always a little wary of important, heavily praised movies that I've waited a little too long to see, and "Milk" was no exception. But while "Milk" isn't a flawless movie, it is a very good one that is anchored by knockout performances from Sean Penn and Josh Brolin, and a fine supporting cast. Emile Hirsch, perhaps atoning for "Speed Racer," is especially good as a young Cleve Jones, the activist who went on to create the AIDS Memorial Quilt project.
A couple things came to mind while I watched "Milk" with my friend R: First, it's hard to imagine that this film would have been possible without the success and frankness of "Brokeback Mountain." The sexuality in "Milk" is hardly over the top, but the fact that it exists at all in a mainstream movie represents a sea change. James Franco kissing Sean Penn didn't seem to be nearly as big of a deal as Heath Ledger kissing Jake Gyllenhaal just four short years ago.
However, it was unsettling to think about how far this country still has to go in terms of granting gay Americans full civil rights. Some of the anti-gay rhetoric in archival footage from the 1970s is nearly identical to the rhetoric today in many parts of the country - that gays are a threat to American values, that they can't be trusted around children, that God disapproves, etc. Here in Florida, voters passed a depressing constitutional amendment that defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. California's Prop. 8 did the same thing, with overwhelming support from (irony alert) African-American voters.
Back to the acting: Josh Brolin was amazing as Dan White, the struggling politician who ultimately killed Milk and San Francisco's mayor in 1978. He brought complexity and vulnerability to a character that could have been easy to hate, playing him as a man who is losing his place in a changing world. Give that man a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. James Franco was quite good as Milk's warm and supportive boyfriend, Scott Smith. You really feel for him as he loses his partner to a movement that eventually overwhelmes their relationship. (And for the record, Franco is incapable of burying his hotness, even with a bad perm and a '70s mustache. As my friend J. would say, some people are just gifted.)
It's down to one showing at the Miracle 5, so check it out while it's still on the big screen.