Milking A Review For All I Can Get Out of It

As is our tradition on Christmas, we went out to see a movie (the Chinese food will be a bit later). Alas, the pickings weren’t that great. “Benjamin Button” is just a Forest Gump in a different setting. “Doubt” and “Frost/Nixon”… I’d rather see them in the theatre. “Valkyrie” is a bit dark for a Christmas movie. I just couldn’t bring myself to see “Disney’s Bedtime Stories” or “The Tale of Despereaux”. nsshere suggested “Milk”, and that seemed to be the best of the bunch. So it was off to the Laemmle’s Fallbrook 7 to the 12:40p showing.

“Milk” tells the story of the political ascent of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay supervisor elected to office in San Francisco. It chronicles his three losing campaigns and his final successful one, his campaign against Proposition 6, and his relationships, both at the personal level and with political colleagues such as Dan White. One glaring omission from those relationships was Dianne Feinstein: you see her in one news clip at the beginning, and hear her purported voice in one scene… and that’s it. I don’t know whether that omission was intentional.

Ob road geek, before I go into the review: In the scene where they drive into San Francisco, there are bright green reflective road signs with exit numbers. Bzzzzzt. Try again. Caltrans was still using the dark green signs with button copy in the 1970s, and the only exit numbers were on three exits in downtown Los Angeles. Almost as glaring was the use of the modern restored Market Street PCC cars, and that wonderful boom mike that was visible in one scene.

Anyway, on to the acting. The principle actor in the movie was Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. He gave a very good performance, and is growing well into a leading man. Josh Brolin was a bit stiff as Dan White, but I don’t know if that is how the original politician was. The other actors were pretty much in the background, as I guess happens in a bio-pic. They seem to have been cast primarily because of their resemblance to the real-life people.

The story itself was timely, given the passage of Prop. 8 here in California. The fight that Milk fought still needs to be fought today — there is absolutely no reason to discriminate based on sexual preference. In that, the movie does good, but it also does bad. It is in your face about male homosexuality (there’s nary a lesbian to be seen, except for Alison Pill’s character). But what it doesn’t show is the discrimination that was really faced back then. It doesn’t show the taunting and violence that occured, and what happened in the workplace. This would have been useful to show, if only to show how remarkable Milk’s success was… and how far we still have to go.

I was just starting college around the time that Harvey Milk was shot. I don’t remember following the events, but I do remember hearing about them and about Dan White’s “Twinkie Defense”. I do remember how society at that time viewed homosexuals (with a last name that started “Faig” and being your typical nerd-with-a-briefcase in high school, I got the teasing). Certainly at Palisades High School in the mid-1970s, it wouldn’t have been acceptable for someone to be homosexual. Nowadays, there are kids who are openly gay or lesbian in high school, and no one thinks twice about it. Our society has come so far in the years since then, thanks to the work of people like Harvey Milk. Although I’m not gay, this battle is just so important, because it is up to the law to protect the rights of minorities–we can’t trust the majority to do it.

So, not your typical Christmas movie. But I think it was an appropriate one–as its message was hope, and about triumph over adversary. Isn’t that one of the messages of this season? To get through what we are facing as a nation, don’t we need hope and confidence that we can overcome our trials?

[And, as a note, this should close out my reviews for 2008. Hopefully, you’ve had as much fun reading them as I have had writing them.]