"He meant well," a ticket-buyer said, shuffling miserably out of Roland Emmerich's calamitous Stonewall. "That's got to count for something."
I don't think that's true. If those good intentions had counted, they might have inspired Emmerich not to trust himself to helm this fictionalized recounting of the 1969 West Village uprising that birthed the Gay Liberation Front. Intentions worth toasting would have found the director of Independence Day and Godzilla '98 putting this story in the hands of a filmmaker adept at the personal and the political, one subtle enough to capture how, in heated times, individual injustices can accrete into sweeping public outrage.
Nah. Emmerich meant so well that the picture went to a director whose last hit peaked with a car chase on the White House lawn. Emmerich's movies never show us change bubbling up from people and out into the world -- they work the other way around, with change in the form of tidal waves and motherships coming at the people, who dutifully run. And another director, one who sees change coming rather than as something to flee when it hits, might have understood that the story of Stonewall is not the hero's journey of Jeremy Irvine's Mark-Paul Gosselaar lookalike, who comes from the heartland. The social-media outrage the film stirred even before the reviews came in is entirely justified: Why does this movie about misfits of all races star the little gold man from the top of high school sports trophies? Why is it so scared of gay sex? Why does the famous riot just seem to happen, like one of Emmerich's pop apocalypses?