The Reviewer: MILK

MILK, the latest feature film starring Sean Penn, sets out to inspire audiences with a biographical tribute to activist Harvey Milk. The story of the man, Harvey Milk, is a compelling one; the kind of memory America is built upon. Harvey Milk was the first openly homosexual government official, a representative in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Filled with the passion of many 1960s and 70s social activists, Harvey Milk was another human being willing to live and die for a cause, leaving a legacy behind that will last long after he is gone. Would the achievements of our current president have occurred if not for people like Milk?

Unlike Milk the man, MILK the film was somewhat of a disappointment. One of the functions of truly great art is to convey true human emotion even in acting. This is one of many instances where I must disagree with the Oscar nomination committee – Penn was recently nominated best actor for his performance in MILK – and cite Penn and James Franco’s performances as lackluster, mediocre at best. The entire movie did a disservice to the story of Harvey Milk. While it represented the time and the culture of the 1970s gay rights movement, it wasn’t at all as compelling as I imagined the life of Harvey Milk to be, before I saw the film.

Interestingly, I experienced a similar disappointment when I first visited San Francisco. And I think the problem was the same then as it is now – expectation. As a young girl, I remember I always wanted to visit San Francisco. I romanticized it endlessly. The spirits would be free, the activists passionate, the people more creative, and weather that rivaled anywhere else in the world. Arriving with impossibly high expectations, San Francisco was destined to disappoint – the weather was probably the only thing that didn’t let me down. I had envisioned a mere dream world, exclusive of the death and drug abuse that confronts visitors of San Francisco. With freedom and expression, comes a certain Utopian reputation, but such idealism often delivers an unwanted reality. And so comes the parallel to the movie MILK. With such critical acclaim, and such an important, culturally relevant story to tell, I was anticipating this movie much in the same fashion.

History lovers will appreciate the setting and costume choices of MILK, as the film truly does achieve that Northern California 1970s vibe. The cinematography is interesting, there were lessons of tolerance, passion, and social values to be learned, but the actors were no James Dean or Jack Nicholson.