September 20, 2001

A Classic for All Genders

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When was the last time you saw a movie about a shim with a botched sex-change episode who then aspires to become an American rock musician? I am guessing not recently, unless you ran to theaters this week to see Hedwig and the Angry Itch, John Cameron Mitchell’s recent masterpiece. Probably too different for the oh-so-cool Academy Awards, this movie has already won this year’s Audience and Director’s Award at Sundance.

Clearly, the plot of this movie is quite bizarre; however, this movie truly works in more ways than one. A sort of comedy/musical/rock opera/drama, Hedwig is the story of Hansel, a young boy (originally) from Berlin who loves classic American rock and roll. Quite confused sexually, he falls in love with an American man (Maurice Dean Wint) who requires him to leave “something” behind before coming to the United States. And then, it just goes from there.

John Cameron Mitchell directs, writes, and stars in one of the most creative story lines ever conceived. He is magnificent as the deep and crazy Hedwig itself. A sheer power on the screen, Mitchell has your eyes locked on him, and he is not letting them go anywhere.

With some of the funniest scenes in the movie, Ben Mayer-Goodman steals the show as the young Hansel. While his mother (Alberta Watson) is not the most supportive parent, Hansel does his own thing and the audience is right alongside him.

Michael Pitt has a great supporting performance as one of Hedwig’s lovers, Tommy, who takes more than just Hedwig’s heart. Probably most recognizable from his Dawson’s Creek performance as Henry, this Leonardo di Caprio look-a-like will most likely have larger roles popping up in the near future.

Opening with a classic American patriotic song on the guitar, the film is filled with subtle hints about how America’s freedom is a dream for so many people, however strange and confused they are. The continued optimism of Hedwig’s character also shows that no matter what situation people can be placed into — and he was definitely placed into some diverse situations — there is always hope.

And that hope is in the songs. The songs are another character in this movie. The need within every word is heard and understood. The songs tell the story with the passion, strength, and love that many actors probably could not do by themselves.

The shots fit the story perfectly. With unique angles tried, and always every bit of filmic space discovered, the camera contributes to the powerfulness of this film. Practically feeling like a 95-minute, extremely engaging music video, Hedwig strides through the scenes with no stop in sight.

Simple cartoon sequences were also used throughout the movie. This helped to explain the story as well as illustrate the fantasy-surrealism combination of the plot. The movie even sometimes felt like a cheesy American sitcom, including a scene inviting an audience sing-a-long.

And the stupendous hair and makeup artists cannot be forgotten. Turning a man into a woman is one thing. But turning a sexually confused boy into a genderless (but truly genderful) creature is another. The wigs used were great, each with a different personality within itself. And the wild makeup on Mitchell really drove the energy of this film right off the screen.

Now, this movie could not be perfect and of course has its downfall. The ending sequence of about the last seven or so minutes could have been approached in a better manner. Trying to end dramatically did not work because the strength of this movie is the comedic approach to this outrageous situation. Even though Hedwig ends on a sort of low note, the movie does not lose too much.

The overall comedic genius of Mitchell is unbelievable and uncontainable. So many issues were brought up in this movie that it seemed somewhat overwhelming at times. But that is in fact what made it great. This comic approach did not denounce the issues raised, but helped the audience understand the character in a more developed way.

With a fun (yet funky) soundtrack, powerful acting, and a completely absorbing atmosphere, Hedwig and the Angry Itch is a definite success of its own kind. So, who needs a gender anyway?

Archived article by Cory Sinclair