Monday, February 16, 2009

Movie Review - Milk

I used to go to the movies a lot. I saw everything. Over the last couple of years my moviegoing has dwindled greatly for a variety of reasons. Recently though I have felt the pull toward the theater, and I have gone to see a few films. One of these was Milk.

Milk is a biopic of Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Most of the film focuses on his efforts to be elected to the post of city supervisor in San Francisco, as well as his effort to get a city gay rights ordinance passed.

It's pretty amazing to think about how vilified homosexuals were in this country during the timeframe in which this film is set, which is mostly the 1970s. It is true (especially in the South) that there is still a lot of hostility toward the gay community in this country, but I think that much progress has been made as well. Obviously there have been "battles" over the issue of gay marriage in many parts of the U.S. recently, but the one of the ideas imparted by this film to me was that there was a time not so long ago when these types of battles would have been battles in the literal sense. It seems as though younger people in this country see homosexuality as much more of a non-issue than their elders do. Since I count myself a part of this younger generation and did not live through many of the events in this film, it served as a real eye-opener and history lesson for me. The story told in the film is that of one of the people who made this change in outlook possible.

I have been a huge Sean Penn fan for quite some time, and he comes through again here. I think he is very deserving of his Oscar nomination, and I would be happy to seem him win an Oscar for this role. One of the most striking things about this portrayal is the joie-de-vivre that Penn is able to get across. I am having a hard time remembering a role in which Penn smiles this much (OK, except for when he played Spicoli, but that was 27 years ago(!)), and it's refreshing to see him play this type of character. The supporting cast is quite good as well. Josh Brolin (also Oscar nominated) does a great job playing the repressed Dan White, and James Franco was a pleasant surprise as one of Milk's love interests. Speaking of love interests, I liked the way that the film doesn't shy away from portraying Milk's relationships, and in fact does so almost literally from the first minute of the film.

I was also struck by many of the modern-day parallels with the events and people in this film. Obviously the biggest one is the recent Proposition 8 vote in California to make gay marriage legal there. The failure of that proposition serves as an ironic counterpoint to the events of the film, but I think it's important to remember that that vote was quite close and had some very big money and institutions (including an infamous Utah-based one) arrayed against it. If an initiative like that had been voted on in Milk's time it wouldn't have even been close. Another interesting parallel to me was the one between the film and the current political situation in the U.S., what with "change" and "people power" getting so much attention as of late.

Overall I thought Milk was a great film, and I highly recommend it.


Blogger luzie said...

I'm going to see Milk on Thursday, finally. It's one of the movies I definitely wanted to see before the Academy Awards.

2/17/2009 8:39 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

I have not seen any films recently. Milk is high up on the list of films I would like to see though. Many years ago I saw "The Times of Harvey Milk", a documentary based on Milk's life. It is almost a shame that Milk gets the attention that its predecesor deserved but the story is good so I'm glad it's getting out there.

2/17/2009 9:25 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

i wanted to see this, but no way is this film ever going to be shown in my small conservative town. will wait til it arrives on dvd. great to known penn pulls through with another great performance though. still love him as spicoli though....

2/18/2009 7:35 AM  
Blogger luzie said...

I saw "Milk" tonight, and I enjoyed it tremendously; Sean Penn is remarkable as Harvey Milk. I love movies that make me laugh, cry and think. And I did all three tonight. As a European I wasn't familiar with the story, but it proves once again exactly what a complex country the United States are.

2/19/2009 10:08 PM  

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