Friday, December 19, 2008


I just got Milk--or rather, I drank it down in one big gulp. It didn't blow me away as it has the majority of the critics, but there were three particular things (listed below) that I really admired about the film. I saw it with my Irish friend Cillian, who was not fully aware of the history of homophobia and gay activism in the U.S. It was interesting to see his somewhat bemused reaction to things that I'm accustomed to, having lived most of my life in a country full of homophobic Bible thumpers.

  1. SEAN PENN I feel as if the actor really connected to the role of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to a major political office in the U.S., in this case the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It's a baity role (I'm surprised some great scenery chewer like Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman didn't tackle it in the early '80s), and I was impressed that Sean never once went over the top or lapsed into that moody, brooding thing he's been doing ever since Fast Times At Ridgemont High. The only scene that rang slightly false to me was when he was crying over the suicide of his second lover of the film (Diego Luna). Not only did Harvey never seem fully invested in the relationship (see my comment below), but as an actor, Sean doesn't really do tears (in fact, I didn't see any at all, despite all of his sobbing). I kept thinking back to his fake crying during the execution scene in Dead Man Walking. But so what? I predict a trip to the podium to collect his second Oscar in February.
  2. JAMES FRANCO How do I love he?... The scene where Harvey met his lover-to-be Scott Smith (played by James) on a New York City subway staircase is one of the most authentic boy-meets-boy scenarios I can remember seeing in a film. Oh, the chemistry! Josh Brolin is getting most of the critical love for his portrayal of Milk assassin Dan White, but that character spent too much of the film on the periphery, brought into focus now and then as a foreboding gesture. Josh did bring a degree of humanity to the role, but it's not as if the character was written as an out-of-control homophobe. (That said, you can count on him scoring a make-up Oscar nod for Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role for having had such a great year and for being snubbed after having an even better 2007 with a lead performance in No Country For Old Men and supporting ones in American Gangster and In The Valley Of Elah.) I wish Milk director Gus Van Sant had spent a little more time exploring Harvey's personal life (the break-up with Smith seems to have happened offscreen!), which I found to be as intriguing as his political one. The implication was that he put career over love, but aside from a few perfunctory scenes illustrating this point, it was never fully explored.
  3. ANITA BRYANT Can someone shown only in archival footage get an Oscar nod? What an actress! I never knew much about Anita Bryant other than that she was a '50s beauty queen who sang silly love songs in the '60s and morphed into the '70s poster girl for orange juice and homophobia. She was and is a dragon lady, for sure, but I found myself intrigued and fascinated by her creepy self-composure and artificial smile. Best supporting actress candidates, meet your match?
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