Sean Penn cracks me up. He makes me laugh nervously when I watch his anguished performances. He’s a fine actor but such an…actor. So when I saw the previews for Milk and saw Penn as the Gay activist address a crowd with a bullhorn…”I know you’re angry…I’M ANGRY!” that was enough to get me giggling.
This is gunna be good.
Gus Van Zant directed the bio-pic which gave me hope that this movie would be a riveting experience. False hope, as it turns out. The movie, like so many of its kind, is an earnest civics lesson. It is well-crafted and informative and dramatically dull. Penn gives a deliberate performance and he’s game–he throws himself into the role. But it also feels self-aware. So does the entire movie.
I guess I’ve always expected the comic in Penn to re-emerge. His small role in Fast Times has turned out to be an anomoly, though I thought he walked away with Carlito’s Way too.
I don’t mean to suggest that the role of Harvey Milk is a funny one, necessarily, but the character does have a quick-witted sense of humor and it offered Penn a new challenge. He gets credit for trying, but in the end, it is a studied performance. He is restrained when you feel he should be manic. And the blame falls squarely on a static script that doesn’t allow the characters to develop in complicated or interesting ways.
Penn and Van Zant and James Franco and the rest of the filmmakers have good intentions, but that alone is not enough to make a memorable movie.