Movie Mom

Movie Mom


posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence
Profanity:Very strong language
Nudity/Sex:Sexual references and explicit situations, nudity (bare tush)
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, smoking, drug references
Violence/Scariness:Violence including murder, gun, suicide, threats
Diversity Issues:A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date:December 5, 2008
DVD Release Date:March
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/Sex: Sexual references and explicit situations, nudity (bare tush)
Alcohol/Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug references
Violence/Scariness: Violence including murder, gun, suicide, threats
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Movie Release Date: December 5, 2008
DVD Release Date: March

“My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you!”

This disarming introduction became the trademark of the man who would become the first out gay man to hold major elective office in the United States. With this greeting, Milk let his audience know that he understood their fears of homosexuality and could not only make a little gentle fun of them but could make fun of himself, too. He did want to recruit his audiences, not to being gay but to fighting for justice.

As the movie begins, Milk (Oscar-winner Sean Penn) is about to turn 40 and feels that he has never done anything important. So he and his boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco) move to San Francisco, open a camera store, and begin to get involved in the community and to become active in opposing a system that perpetuated bigotry and abuse of the gay community. After running unsuccessfully, he makes an important change in his approach — instead of running against something, he starts to run for something, to talk about hope. He becomes a respected leader. He forges some unexpected alliances — with the Teamsters and with people who want pooper-scooper laws. He is elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. But he has enemies. There are threats. And finally, he is killed, along with the city’s mayor, by one of his former colleagues, Dan White (Josh Brolin).


This film has some of the elements of the traditional biopic, but Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black spares us the shorthand formative childhood experiences and minimizes the internal struggles. From the first moment we see Milk, picking up a stranger coming out of the subway on the eve of his 40th birthday we see a man who is already completely comfortable with who he is, a man of great sweetness and humor (both as in good humor and as in wit).

Every performance is impeccable, especially Penn, Franco, and Brolin. But what makes the movie so vibrant is the exquisitely evoked setting, not just the meticulously re-created Castro neighborhood of the 1970’s but the era, the moment, when so much seemed against what they were trying to achieve (the archival footage shows a casual homophobia that is a powerful reminder of how far we have come, even in an era of state initiatives to ban gay marriage. The sweetness and thrill of a heady new sense of possibilities in the pre-AIDS era is almost unbearably poignant. It is a tragic story but it is also a story of hope. It was hope, after all, that Milk learned to bring to his community. That community grew to include the entire city, and now, thanks to this film, to all of us.


  • Jon

    For a movie taking place in the 70s, this film’s so relatable and powerful. Sean Penn left me in awe, and I’ve heard great things about The Times of Harvey Milk, so I’ll be getting around to watching that soon. Definitely glad I got to see the first movie (I think?) of Oscar season. Thanks for this review, Nell! I enjoyed this :)

  • Alicia

    This was a terrifc film – I agree with the A- rating completely. I’m not a big Sean Penn fan but his performance as Harvey Milk was so good that I forgot that he was Sean Penn the actor and believed he was the man himself.
    As another critic said, this film is a wonderful story about the process of electoral politics, among other things. I thought the film handled the essential mystery that was Dan White with great fairness and subtlety. What a wonderful movie about this historic figure, and the tragedy of his assassination.

  • Henrietta22

    Quote: Family discussion; “Why was it so important for Harvey Milk to make a difference? I haven’t seen this movie yet, waiting to buy the DVD and watch it, uninterupted, to think deeply on. I didn’t know the Castro in the 70’s, came into San Franciso in the 80’s. Castro St. and its people were a side of life I had never seen before, at first disturbing, but at the same time something that could not be denied and the gay people I met were just like us, but engaged with their same sex partners. Like all of us there was the good and the bad. So why do I think Harvey Milk wanted to make a difference? He saw that a difference had to be made by someone, and he determined he would do it. He brought the Gay people together with a purpose and without him things would not have advanced to where they are today. What has changed since his time?, and what has not? People have died, and new people have been born since Harvey Milk, and new medical information has entered into our lives and with this, new info on Homosexuality; thinking and feeling people can see their truths and have found the same as I did so many years ago. We see the injustice of what the GLBT has had to live with for too many years and have determined as Harvey Milk did that we will work to stop it forever. What hasn’t changed is the Religious people’s march against the GLBT equal rights as American citizens. Thanks Nell.

  • Nell Minow

    What a lovely comment, Henrietta. Many thanks. I look forward to your thoughts on the movie when you’ve had a chance to see it.

  • Ms.Tee

    I watched the movie and i must say that it was a GREAT movie. I grow up in the bay area i was 11 years old , and remeber this like it was yesterday. I have friends from the gay community and wouldn’t treat them any different because of their beliefs. I ‘m not a follower of the gay community but i belive what milk want justice for all and to fight for what you believe in, and it dosent matter what others think of you.In watching this movie it dosent make us less of a person if we dont agree on others belief,but to let us know that we all want justice for all of us. So to all who haven’t seen the movie please go and see it , it will show you some better understand of what you belive in , and not to be quick to judge other’s.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for a beautiful comment on one of my favorite movies of the year, Ms. Tee!

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