17 February 2002 | EdYerkeRobins
A Brilliant Film - Fun and Multi-Layered
Adapted from an off-Broadway show, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is the end result of 6 years of character and idea evolution by creator John Cameron Mitchell. Equal parts musical, mockumentary, and drama, the film pleases on all levels.
The film's musical numbers are brilliantly crafted and cross several different genres. A country-flavored number, "Sugar Daddy", appears smack-dab in the middle of all the punk and glam rock tunes, daring anyone to doubt the soundtrack's variety. The majority of the songs are catchy and great fun to listen to ("Wig in a Box" even has a karaoke sing-a-long during the second chorus), while staying true to the themes of the movie and Hedwig's life. John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig) sings live vocals over a pre-recorded band mix, and this definitely lends more of a live concert feel than if he had simply lip-synched all the songs for the role. The majority of the cast is reunited from the original cast of the "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" play, so fans of the original play who have not seen the movie need not worry about "outsiders" ruining it in transition.
The film's mockumentary nature mainly results from how the songs, being "autobiographical", are preceded by scenes of commentary by Hedwig and a flashback from her life. While the transition from real time to flashback is usually made quite clear, some scenes (particularly the climax, which is a mess trying to piece together) are confusing as to what is real and what is flashback. The rest of the mockumentary comes between musical sequences, during Hedwig's interaction with her manager, band, and showing of mixed feelings towards Tommy Gnosis, an ex-lover who stole all her material for his own album and is now a popular teen idol. Her interactions with husband Yitzhak (who, due to an excellent make-up job and performance by original cast member Miriam Shor, I had no idea was played by a woman until I saw "Like It or Not", a documentary on the film included on the DVD) would have made the list as well, had a vital character-development scene with Yitzhak (the only non-Hedwig flashback in the entire movie) been left in the final cut; as it is, Yitzhak serves only as Hedwig's back-up singer and whipping boy, a much less important character. Most of the film's situations, however, are explained well, via flashback or dialogue, and have well-written gay and transsexual jokes.
Underneath all the humor and the music, however, is the serious theme of feeling spiritually "whole". Hedwig seems to interpret this (through the song "Origin of Love" and some interesting animated vignettes) as through finding love and one's soul-mate. Mitchell, who knows his character better than anyone, gives an amazing performance and is not only able to portray Hedwig's bitchy diva side, but also able to make the audience sympathize with why she acts that way (unlike real-life divas), and how deeply her inner feelings and her failures so far at "becoming whole" through a relationship trouble her.
Having not even the faintest idea of what the film was about other than that it was a musical, I was very pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had with Hedwig, and how at the same time it never strayed far from its serious theme. In its journey from a character, to a play, to a movie, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" has won over audiences as well as taken home accolades at Sundance, but has not had much mainstream success (chalk this up to its "controversial" transsexual main character and the popularity of "Moulin Rouge!", an experiment in stylistic over-extravagance, which is bigger and flashier than "Hedwig" due to its grand budget but lacks the sense of "genuine" emotion in the plot). This is quite tragic, because in retrospect, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" was definitely one of 2001's best films.