Reliably made by Gus Van Sant, Milk is a carefully balanced film which thankfully does not fall into bathos or pandering, nor whitewash its colorful subject.
Given the final cut, I spent exactly the right amount of time on the set as a local extra. (Just a few hours at one shoot.) Of course you won't see me, but have fun looking for me in the scene where the historic Muni trolley car is disconnected from its overhead power lines. Talk about movie magic. They sure made that look exciting. I had to stifle a laugh when I heard the big BBZZZZTTT electric sound some sound designer had dropped in there.
It's funny how much the late 70s do look like today, with the return of beards, facial hair, washy earthy colors, and tight clothes made of soft fabrics. (Don't forget The GIANT glasses!)
Whereas last year's Paranoid Park was a quiet, emo, quintessentially Van Sant return to indie cinema, Milk is well-funded, liberal-minded, Hollywood fare. I kept seeing Sean Penn and thinking, no matter how well he does act, look, it's Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk! Isn't that funny? Maddy's ex playing a homosexual, imagine that. For contrast, we have Tom Ammiano playing... Tom Ammiano! And to think, they could do Penn's splendid Harvey schnoz and not have any Just For Men on the set for Tom?
Spiced with little cameos of known locals, the film should delight all who were "there" even if they didn't receive a consultancy or invitation to the premiere. While not earth-shattering, it's a hard film not to like. Although not a likely candidate for repeated viewing or major awards, Milk will hopefully find a national audience and win admiration for a man who knew the true meaning of "outreach," did real work to befriend other communities, and who didn't try to "educate" others with an air of smug entitlement.
The story of Harvey Milk speaks to politics today. Why did No on 8 lose? Why was No on 8 marketing, outreach, and television spots so poor? (What do you think Harvey have thought of this ad?!) Proponents of marriage equality didn't have a Harvey Milk, someone who could unify people, work with others, and inspire not only his own movement but people statewide. Without a Harvey Milk, proponents of marriage equality look for scapegoats on whom they can place blame, instead of building coalitions and reaching out in all languages in all corners with respect, which is what Harvey would have done.