"It should be called 'Independence Gay'": The 12 most brutal reviews of "Stonewall"

Roland Emmerich's Stonewall riots film is being labeled as big a disaster as some of his disaster flicks

Published September 24, 2015 2:31PM (EDT)

Jeremy Irvine in "Stonewall"    (Roadside Attractions)
Jeremy Irvine in "Stonewall" (Roadside Attractions)

Reviews are beginning to roll in for “Stonewall,” disaster maven Roland Emmerich’s dramatization of the 1969 Stonewall riots, and the critical consensus is just as bad, if not worse, than the early trailer backlash suggested. In addition to the film’s muddled identity politics — sidelining the riots’ real non-white, gender-queer inciters in favor of a bland (and fictional) white male-savior protagonist — there’s not much to love about the filmmaking either, with our own Andrew O’Hehir pointing out that the films failures of representation are actually "the byproducts of the film’s essential stupidity and dramatic incompetence, rather than their cause.”

Here are some of the best disses so far:

“'Stonewall’ has the opportunity to tell the story of a profound, pivotal moment in the history of gay rights in this country, and it not only fumbles it, it trips over it, then falls off a cliff, then sets itself on fire. It is a movie so baffling and wrong-headed and absurd that I honestly can’t believe it exists. I can’t fathom what anyone involved could have possibly been thinking.”
— Will Leitch, Deadspin

“At the very least, Emmerich can hold his head high in the knowledge that he wasn’t responsible for the astonishingly thick script — that distinction belongs to Jon Robin Baitz, the pen behind such stirring moments as one during the climactic riot, in which our hero raises his fist to the heavens and screams “GAY POWER!” Come to think of it, that’s really what most of the film feels like: a fist shoved in a face and words howled into ears.” — Charles Bramesco, The Playlist

“It is infuriating to me that this far into his career, he's still this bad at the basics of character and tone, and when you're telling a story like this, one that feels as timely and urgent as ‘Selma’ did last fall, it is inexcusable to fumble it this completely. I don't care who you are or how much you want to be open to the message of this movie… it is a failure, a disaster as big as the ones that normally serve as the subjects of Emmerich's 'movies.'” — Drew McWeeny, HitFix

“Stonewall is a cartoon retelling of a very real revolution, a depiction that avoids nuance at all costs and, at its worst, dangerously repackages the queer experience using language invented by those originally deployed to break it apart.” — Richard Scott Larson, Slant

“Accusing ‘Stonewall’ of conflicting values might be giving it too much credit. Coming off of an underrated, strangely personal Shakespeare truther movie (‘Anonymous’) and a fun ‘Die Hard’ clone (‘White House Down’), Emmerich seems eluded by the subject matter, despite obvious personal investment. The result appears to be haphazardly quilted from cut pieces; even the centerpiece riot—where Emmerich gets to exercise his yen for destroying iconic locations—is truncated.”
— Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, A.V. Club

“‘Stonewall’ somehow manages to be simultaneously bloated and anemic, overstuffed and underpopulated. It’s a story about a true historical event that spends way too much time on its fictional lead character; the tone is so erratic and artificial that it wouldn’t feel surprising if the movie suddenly became a musical.” — Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

“Emmerich deserves props for bankrolling much of the film and nobly trying to tell the story, but the result is a mess, an unfocused, soap-operaesque production that often looks as if it were shot on the set of a Janet Jackson music video.” — Randy Myers, San Jose Mercury News

“The real problem is that its narrative inventions embrace every wrong cliche, from the first word to the last speech of Jon Robin Baitz's screenplay and in the desperate lack of nuance afflicting nearly every performance. Director Emmerich, best known for the shamelessly enjoyable digital-effects schlockbusters "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow," begins each new scene in "Stonewall" with the knob at 11. He hammers the material home in a blunt, screechy style that falsifies even the supporting characters who really were there, in and around the gay bar run by the mob, raided once too often by the police and destined for gay-liberation and civil rights immortality.” — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“Stonewall is oddly compelling when it’s trying to be a gay ‘Forrest Gump.’ As a history of Stonewall, it’s confused, strange, and a little insulting. Having Danny throw the first brick at the Stonewall riots is a bit like when Marty McFly goes back in time and steals rock ‘n’ roll from Chuck Berry, taking history away from the real participants.” — Vince Mancini, FilmDrunk

“The trailer, as it turns out, told the truth: the film’s focus—just as an earlier Stonewall movie of 1995—is a hot, white twink. That doesn’t mean black, Latino or trans characters are missing. They are present and simply secondary. If it is a meager consolation, the movie’s flaws—character, plot, direction—are more significant and damning, and affect everyone equally.
Nothing surprises you about Stonewall: oh wait, a villainous, abusive, obese transvestite in a red satin dress, with jowls that almost hit the floor, surprises you. Like a lot of people in the movie he wants to use and abuse Danny, our hero.” — Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast

“Many of the characters who don’t look and sound like Danny are rendered as jokes, silly people who need Danny’s relatively rugged masculinity to get them angry and organized. Stonewall is ultimately yet another cartoonish fantasy about white saviors and square-jawed heroes; it should be called Independence Gay.” — Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“I think we need to file Emmerich’s “Stonewall” – a well-intentioned, profoundly silly and borderline insulting movie – under the category of Yeah That Happened or perhaps God Reminding Us We Are Idiots, and then forget it as soon as possible.” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

By Anna Silman

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