Sean Penn Wants You - Complications Ensue
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Friday, March 06, 2009

We finally went and saw MILK, which is a very moving movie without being in any way a well-structured story. (Yes, I'm going to criticize an Oscar-winning screenplay. Feel free to consider me an idiot.) It carries you along by sheer verve, and the feeling of being on the right side of a successful and righteous movement. (Unless, of course, you have an aversion to homosexuals, or believe that God hates them, in which case you may not dig it.)

The traditional way to tell the story might have shown us who Harvey was, and what he faced in the closet, before he went to San Francisco to come out. San Francisco might have been the end of the first act. Instead we only see him blossom. The screenplay seems to assume we all know what being closeted truly meant. The story is full of appalling incidents that show how much hatred gays faced only thirty years ago; but somehow, maybe because the only characters we really get to know are gay (until Dan White shows up late in the game), Harvey's ultimate success never seems in doubt. Harvey's flaws as a person come through, but they don't seem to be obstacles to his success.

I cried when the kid called from Jackson, Mississippi, and I cried at the candlelight march. But I felt there could have been more of a story there.

But Penn does an absolutely amazing job of disappearing into the role. And the other characters are full of life, too. And I couldn't say that the movie would have sold one more ticket if anyone had taken my advice. This is my blog, so this is my attempt to understand what I didn't feel worked. YMMV.

Funnily enough, when I got home, I had an email from Sean Penn urging me to join the Courage Campaign.

And here's where I suggest you doing well by doing good. I've mentioned before that one way to break into the biz is to involve yourself in a charity or cause dear to the hearts of showbiz people. If there ever was one, the anti-Prop-8 / pro-gay-marriage cause is that. If you live in LA, and you think that gay people ought to be able to get married, you should consider volunteering, in person, at the nearest office. There will be other show people there. You will get to know them in the context of being a mensch, not someone who needs a gig. If you happen to be straight, you might get bonus points for giving a damn about gay rights.

This might sound a bit Machiavellian, but it's not. When you volunteer, you don't just do good and you don't just feel good. You also do well. You become a member of the community, not just an inhabitant. You start to belong. When you help your neighbor, you're doing a mitzvah; there's nothing wrong with the fact that your neighbor also owes you one. That's how communities knit together.

[POLITICS:]

Up here in Canada, gay marriage became legal nationwide a few years ago. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that it was a fundamental right, and the various provinces quickly said, "Oh, sorry!" and passed the required laws. Now, you run into a guy at a party and he introduces you to his husband. And you know what? It hasn't hurt traditional marriage one bit. We continue to enjoy our traditional low divorce rates, low abortion rates, and low crime. Make of that what you will.

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5 Comments:

During the Oscars, I commented that Milk had the least compelling screenplay of the nominees. Somehow, it seems like a screenplay based on a compelling historic figure seems a little less than original, too.

It seems like the screenplay award is often the critics' choice given in lieu of the best picture award's going to the box office smash. (I'm talking about "Lord of the Rings" vs. "Lost in Translation," among other things.)

Also, wasn't Benjamin Buttons the worst?

By Blogger David, at 11:31 AM  

Milk was the only Best Picture nominee I didn't see, only because it wasn't in the theatres I can get in for free (long story) for very long. The others were. Not sure why.

on the On The Page podcast about the screenplay nominees, they said it was a good but certainly not extraordinary screenplay.

I agree, in part, with David that the Best Screenplay (adapted or original) usually goes to a film often better than the Best Picture. Personally, I liked the third Lord of the Rings better than Lost in Translation, which seemed to polarize a lot of people. My dad, who mostly sees independent films, hated Lost In Translation. I was somewhat indifferent.

Other examples, which I agree with more, are Pulp Fiction over Forrest Gump, The Usual Suspects over Braveheart, and there are others.

As for the gay marriage issue, I've been with my `opposite-sex-life-partner' for 17 years. We never got married because neither of us is religious and neither us or our families cared one way or the other. I refer to her as my wife because that's a better explanation for our relationship than anything else. In every sense of the word we ARE married. We have two children, a house and a life together. And we've outlasted most `legitimate' marriages we know. Most people who hear me call her my wife don't know any different. Of course, that's because we're a traditional, heterosexual couple. If we weren't, calling her my wife (or I guess him my husband), might sound weird to most people. I'd never call her my girlfriend (we haven't `dated' since University) or my partner (which is far too easily confused with a business partner). So in a round about way, that's why I think opposing gay marriage is ridiculous. There are a whole lot of `married' people walking around in the US that are, for some reason, not allowed to call their spouse a wife or husband. It boggles my mind. I'm glad I live in a country that, for the most part, agrees with me.

By Blogger Tim W., at 1:36 PM  

In the same vein, ME's been doing some good work on the same front for the last few years. They're a bit more grassroots, I think.

By Blogger Elize Morgan, at 2:22 PM  

I dunno. In the film, Sean Penn kept saying, purposefully: "This isn't about me, it's about the movement." The Movement is really the main "character," and the film did indeed cover the movement from its start to its first major political victory (similar to the way a standard bio would follow a character).

Would it have been better if we'd seen Milk's childhood? I think not.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 1:31 PM  

But the movie's not about the movement. It's about Harvey's involvement in the movement. Otherwise how do you miss Stonewall?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:57 PM  

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