Hedwig and the Angry Inch

There are few movies today as bizarre and original as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, based on the hit off-Broadway play by John Cameron Mitchell with lyrics and music by Stephen Trask. Hedwig is the story of a transexual rock singer born as a man, but living as a woman. Almost. A botched operation left her with an 'angry inch,' also the name of her backup band. At the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, Hedwig garnered two awards, the Audience Award and Best Director for Mitchell, who adapted his own play to the big screen.

Hedwig (Mitchell) is undergoing a dual journey. He is seeking legal restitution from rock star Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt, Bully, Finding Forrester), an ex-lover. Hedwig collaborated with Gnosis and helped form his rock star persona, only to have Gnosis shun her when he discovered her secret. Now, Hedwig is following Gnosis around the country, playing in nearby seafood restaurants as Gnosis performs in large venues. Hedwig is also looking for 'his other self.' Mitchell based part of the story from Plato's Symposium. It essentially says that long ago, people were joined as two. Something split them, so they have a soul mate somewhere.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch jumps around in time, revealing more details through long flashbacks and songs. The flashbacks trace Hedwig's life from East Berlin to the United States, revealing little about him except for standard biographical fare. The songs are much more lucid (and catchy). Music is the heart of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It provides the film with a sense of vibrant energy and excitement. Together with audacious costumes and animation by Emily Hubley, Mitchell tracks Hedwig's journey. In this manner, Hedwig is all about style over substance. Mitchell assaults the viewer with brash images Hedwig's flamboyant, outrageous personality.

In terms of Hedwig's personal journey, the film is less satisfying. There is a resolution at the end, but it feels cheap. By the end, nobody cares that much what happens to Hedwig, they just want to see what strange thing he does next. It seems that Mitchell would rather bowl the viewer over with his over-the-top imagery and comedy than focus on the character of Hedwig. Still, as a rock opera, Hedwig and the Angry Inch works. The songs advance the story and actually work as stand alone songs, and the play moves easily from the stage to the screen. Mitchell has a strong presence on camera, and, as Hedwig, steals the spotlight every time he is on screen. Fun? Yes. But also a little overrated.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Rated R for sexual content and language.

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