Watching the Oscars for me is like a college football fan watching the Super Bowl. The event is concerned with something we tangentially love, but mostly we watch it as an excuse to gamble and eat potato chips. Things get a little more interesting, however, when you introduce your homophobic, ultra-conservative grandfather into a Milk and Slumdog-loving queer Middle Eastern fest.
Ten minutes into the awards ceremony – after my mom was introduced to her new Aussie crush (who she really loved without that Wolverine clown hair)- the writer for Milk, the 34-year-old Dustin Lance Black (much like Asians, those gays are timeless), announces he was raised Mormon and would like to get married some day…and all Hell breaks loose in my Provo home. This is partially due to the fact, I’m sure, that Scott and I start laughing in glee, kissing and rejoicing in this small jab at the church my family are firm supporters of. Oh, and it might also be because said church hates gay people.
So, as much as I respected Mickey Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler, I’ve never been happier to see Sean Penn. His acceptance speech was elegant (nothing about blood and underwear) and pointed and even though I’m usually underwhelmed by impersonations and biopics, I found Milk to be a really competent film released about 6 months too late.
Gus Van Sant is one of those guys that continually pushes boundaries of filmmaking. This past year’s Paranoid Park is probably my number one of the year, and Gerry and My Own Private Idaho are films that have stuck with me as examples of what can be done with the medium. So when innovative directors like him make extremely conventional movies like Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, or Milk, I get a little disappointed. Finding Forrester was a bit of a disaster. Let’s ignore that one. But Good Will Hunting and Milk are both inspiring, beautiful films. Coming from any other Hollywood director, I would be all-a-praise about them. But coming from Van Sant they seem too glossy and perfect with too many stars that can detract…
And with the first previews for Milk I did feel that way. I had little interest in the movie even though it was shot it in my old stomping grounds (which made the Castro look really retro-ly amazing last summer) and co-starred the hunk of my dreams, Franco. I just knew that The Times of Harvey Milk would be more worthwhile.
But despite the fact that the documentary probably is a better film overall (though comparing the two forms seems uncalled for) Milk is a shot of Hollywood inspiration that people need right now. Yes, watching the Oscars at my Mormon family’s house might have been a little painful, but it was also a huge reminder that people do need conventional Hollywood productions like Milk – a film that they might actually see – starring those dudes from I am Sam, Speed Racer and Spiderman to recognize the importance of political actions in the world today. No one saw Gerry…it was a really great movie, but no one saw it. People saw the less great Milk and they’re talking about it. Grandparents are retching and young people are embarrassed by them and it’s getting people talking.
Even though those conversations are uncomfortable, they need to be had.