Though it’s titled after the famous 1969 riots at a Greenwich Village bar that’s cited as the beginning of the gay liberation movement, Roland Emmerich’s film is more a fictional coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the event. It comes across as a heartfelt piece of work, but also one that’s stilted, cliché-ridden and grossly manipulative—a movie that’s ultimately unworthy of its subject—especially since, like those pictures about the civil rights movement in which a white man always saved the day (see “Mississippi Burning” and its ilk), it’s Emmerich’s fictional protagonist who ultimately urges on the crowd to rebel against oppression.

The picture opens with scenes portraying the riot, and eventually it will wind up there as well, but the main body tells the story of Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine), an almost preternaturally handsome high-school kid from a small Indiana town, where his father (David Cubitt) is the football coach who, among other things, shows his players monitory educational shorts about the perversity of homosexuality. Of course Danny is gay, and when he and the team quarterback, Joe (Karl Glusman), are discovered in a compromising situation one night, his father is quick to believe that Danny had seduced the team star and offers his son the choice of immediate psychiatric treatment or exile from their home.

The distraught kid chooses the latter option, taking off for New York (where he’s supposed to attend Columbia come the fall, though his departure in mid-semester—and his father’s attitude—will endanger his scholarship), and leaving behind his religious mother (Andrea Frankle) and supportive younger sister Phoebe (Joey King). Finding himself suddenly on Christopher Street, Danny, looking the totally straight-arrow stud, falls in which a crowd of high-spirited locals—Lee (Alex C. Nachi), Queen Cong (Vladimir Alexis), Orphan Allie (Caleb Landry-Jones), Quiet Paul (Ben Sullivan) and Ra, aka Ramona (Jonny Beauchamp), a reedy, androgynous extrovert who takes the boy under his wing and before long is clearly growing infatuated with him.

Ray’s protection only goes so far, however, and Danny gets caught up during a police raid and is badly beaten. Their relationship, moreover, is threatened when Danny finds himself attracted not only to the message of the Mattachine Society, which aims to persuade straight society to become more accepting, but to its local chapter head Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who offers to share his apartment with the boy. Danny’s attitude becomes more militant, however, not only because Trevor proves unfaithful, but because after being misused by Murphy he can’t tolerate yet another police raid on their communal turf. So while Emmerich depicts the riot as inspired by the cops’ tough treatment of a young woman who’s wearing men’s clothes—something that marks her as a prime target—and Queen Cong supplies the first brick, it’s Danny who throws it while calls the crowd to violent action.

There are some real characters scattered through “Stonewall”—the bar’s operator Ed Murphy (Ron Perlman), who’s engaged in some unsavory business that endangers Danny; Seymour Pine (Matt Craven), a vice cop who uses raids on the Stonewall to try to catch Murphy; gay rights activists Bob Kohler (Patrick Garrow) and Frank Kameny (Arthur Holden), who’s shown addressing the local Mattachine chapter; and drag queen Marsha Johnson (Otoja Abit), who became a leader in the gay liberation struggle—but they’re peripheral figures. The focus is on the fictional ones created by screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz, particularly Danny, who as costumed by Simonetta Mariano appears to be wearing James Dean’s wardrobe from “Rebel Without a Cause” and as played by Irvine is as green and callow (and stilted)as they come. By contrast other Baitz’s creations are played with greater looseness. Beauchamp in particular brings likable vivacity to skinny, long-haired Ray, even if Emmerich encourages him to avoid restraint at all costs. The other newbies haven’t nearly as much opportunity to shine, but Perlman and Craven bring suitable authority to the more mature characters.

In visual terms, “Stonewall” doesn’t quite achieve period authenticity despite the yeoman efforts of production designer Michele Laliberte, art directors Vincent Gingas-Liberali and David Gaucher, set decorator Elise De Blois and Mariano. Perhaps the feeling of stagebound recreation is partially due to the overly splashy, often simply garish cinematography by Markus Forderer. But the result only emphasizes the feeling of essential falseness that the film radiates in its narrative arc.

“Stonewall” adds a postscript in which Danny, after a year at Columbia, returns home for a visit, confronts a now-married Joe, has a joyous reunion with his sister and mother and an abortive one with his father. It then refers him to NYC, where he participates in the city’s first gay pride parade. The ending recalls that of a superior recent film, Matthew Archus’ “Pride,” which also played loose with the facts in narrating how striking Welsh miners were aided by gay London activists during the 1984 coal strike by inserting a fictional white-bread kid just coming out into the mix. But that picture aimed for lighthearted charm rather than gritty realism, as this one does; and criticizing it would make little more sense than castigating “Kinky Books” for a lack of historical precision. By contrast Emmerich wants to tell the truth about the 1969 Stonewall riots, but his contrivance in presenting mass audiences with a protagonist they can more easily relate to, rather than portraying the main actors as they really were, undermines his good intentions.

So Stonewall still awaits cinematic treatment that will truly reflect the event.