Denby, Scott Agree: Subway Pick-Up Scene in Milk is Hot; James Franco is Angelic

Critics are falling all over themselves to laud Gus Van Sant’s Milk. Some seem to love one scene in particular:

A.O. Scott, The New York Times:

One of the first scenes in ‘Milk’ is of a pick-up in a New York subway station. It’s 1970, and an insurance executive in a suit and tie catches sight of a beautiful, scruffy younger man — the phrase ‘angel-headed hipster‘ comes to mind — and banters with him on the stairs. The mood of the moment, which ends up with the two men eating birthday cake in bed, is casual and sexy, and its flirtatious playfulness is somewhat disarming, given our expectation of a serious and important movie grounded in historical events.

David Denby, The New Yorker:

At the beginning of Gus Van Sant’s vibrantly entertaining bio-pic ‘Milk,’ Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) picks up a much younger man in the New York subway. Physically, the two are far from equals: Penn’s Milk is forty and short, with a big schnoz and matted wedges of hair heading uneasily in different directions; Scott Smith, played by James Franco, is tall and slender, with an angel face and a curly brown mane. But Smith is charmed by Milk’s self-deprecating humor, and turned on by his ravenous need. Sighing, Smith gives in and goes home with him. It is the first of Harvey Milk’s triumphs that we see.


The gay leader becomes a superb pol with a human-rights agenda, and the movie offers a mildly subversive suggestion: attracting the electorate is not all that different from picking up a young man in the subway. Charm, persistence, and articulate passion are required for both.

Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post:

Thanks in large part to Penn’s sensitive portrayal, when Harvey picks up a young stranger in a Manhattan subway station as ‘Milk’ opens, the encounter doesn’t feel predatory. Instead, it bespeaks the isolation and furtive search for intimacy engendered by years of stigma and persecution. Scott Smith (James Franco) goes home with Harvey and later moves with him to San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood…


Denby, Scott Agree: Subway Pick-Up Scene in Milk is Hot; James Franco is Angelic