This film is so great and inspiring on so many levels in so many different ways.
(I know I’m a few years late in watching this, but it’s been on my list to watch and I finally did. Now I’m just trying to recommend it to people who still haven’t watched it yet, because it’s worth the time. It really has the power and ability to open the eyes of those who have no empathy towards, or feel indifferent about the gay community and their rights.)
It’s such a powerful movie and not only does it stick up for gay rights, it represents gays in a realistic way. This movie wasn’t scared to explore the many details of homosexuality, and I admired that.
One of the first scenes is the meet cute between Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) and Scott Smith (James Franco), where Harvey picks up Scott at a New York subway station. The mood of the moment, which ends up with the two men eating birthday cake in bed, is casual and sexy, and its flirtatious playfulness is somewhat disarming, given our expectation of a serious and important movie grounded in historical events.
But before that subway station encounter, we have already seen real-life news video of the aftermath of Milk’s assassination, as well as grainy photographs of gay men being rounded up by the police. These images don’t spoil the intimacy between Harvey the buttoned-up businessman and Scott Smith, the hippie who becomes his live-in lover and first campaign manager. Rather, the constant risk of harassment, humiliation and violence is the defining context of that intimacy.
And his refusal to accept this as a fact of life, his insistence on being who he is without secrecy or shame, is what turns Milk from a bohemian camera store owner, into a political leader.
James Franco was wonderful. He played a gay man, while not overdoing it. He played a realistic gay man. He made sure it was believable.
But I have to say, the man who stole the show was definitely none other than Sean Penn. His performance was breathtaking. He presented a gay man while conveying the message he was a powerful political leader, standing up not only for the gay community, but for the black community, the asian community, latino, homeless, senior citizens, and all minorities.
Overall, this movie definitely pulls at the heart strings. It covers so many social issues at once, and has a powerful aspect throughout the film. That power lies in its uncanny balancing of nuance and scale, its ability to be about nearly everything — love, death, politics, sex, modernity — without losing sight of the intimate particulars of its story. Harvey Milk was an intriguing, inspiring figure. “Milk” is a marvel.