Fuck you, I’m going to Guam!
If you’re transgender, like me, then the chances you’ve heard of this as it is one of the most important LGBT films of the last 20 years. Infact, this is probably one of the better known films that I’ve ever reviewed on this site, mainly due to it becoming a successful broadway show (well, more successful after the release of the film) that starred Neil Patrick Harris. If however you’re not in the LGBT spectrum then there is a very good chance that the words “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” mean nothing to you, and this review is aimed at you.
Infact, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a unique film on this site in the sense that it is a type of film that I’ve never reviewed before…..a musical. I’m not one for musicals at all, infact I have virtually no interest in them normally. This is the reason why I have no intention of ever seeing a Bollywood film, even though I work in a cinema that shows three or four every month.
Please note that I didn’t re-watch the film for the below review. This was done all from memory.
Hansel (Mitchell) grew up in a small town in the eastern half of Germany before the Berlin wall was knocked down. One day, he meets an American soldier called Luther (Wint) and he successful convinces Hansel, who was effeminate anyway, to have a sex change, become his wife and move to America. Hansel goes through with the operation, as planned, but the operation is not successful and the result is neither penis or vagina, instead just a lump of flesh between the legs that Hansel, now known as Hedwig, calls her “Angry Inch”.
Hedwig moves to America, as planned, but Luther soon leaves her for someone else and she is left completely on her own. Depressed, Hedwig forms a rock band consisting of Korean army wives. She soon meets Tommy Speck (Pitt), a devout Christian teen and the two write music together. Hedwig renames him after the Greek word to knowledge, Tommy Gnosis. Despite their bond, Gnosis soon leaves and steals Hedwig’s songs, becoming internationally famous in the process.
Bitter, Hedwig continues to tour with the same songs and consistently contacts various members of the media to badmouth Gnosis. Her life goes into a downward spiral as she tears up her boyfriend’s passport and is abandoned by her band. However, an unexpected meeting changes everything for both her and Tommy.
So why is it a landmark film even though relatively few have heard of it?
Well I think there are quite a few reasons why “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (I’m simply going to call it HAI for the rest of the review) is a landmark film because issues regarding transgenderism tend to only focus on one or two aspects, such as coming out and the eventual operation, whereas HAI actually takes place (for the most part) after Hedwig’s operation. It shows what life can be like for anyone who is transgendered after everything is over, and how other than the obvious, that the lives aren’t that different.
It tells the story of someone who feels hurt when she is betrayed by a friend (more on the relationship between Hedwig and Tommy in a moment) and how you’re trying to not let it affect your life, whilst simultaneously trying to make the other person’s life hell. It’s very true to life and shows that no matter how strong you think you are, the situation can easily get on top of you.
The hurt that Hedwig shows and feels is very real and genuine because they took great care in developing her relationship with Tommy. It’s a bit of an odd relationship, don’t get me wrong, but there are definitely a representation of a common theme in the film, a speech by Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium, a myth that basically suggests that at one point humans were effectively two people that were joined together before the Gods tore them apart from anger. To summarise how quickly their relationship sours, if the film was shown in chronological order, one minute you’d have Hedwig giving Tommy a handjob in the bath, to them hating each other minutes later.
That is exactly what the film is like in general. It is unlikely anything you have ever seen before and it is a gem. It is completely unique, with characters that are completely engaging. The very fact that I can write this review completely from memory, having not actually watched the film for about five years, just shows how unforgettable the story is.
The comedy contained within HAI is very different to most other comedy-musicals. As you can tell from the trailer at the bottom of the review, the humour will amuse some, whereas it will alienate many others. This is definitely not a film that anyone with any homophobic tendencies will enjoy because the jokes are very much geared towards the LGBT community, as is the sexuality of the character of Hedwig, who might I add is played to perfect by John Cameron Mitchell. He completely nailed it in the role and even having watched the videos of Neil Patrick Harris as the character on Broadway, you can’t picture anyone other than JCM as Hedwig.
He heads up a cast that is completely competent and pulls off everything that is thrown at them, and this is summed up very well by the fact that I didn’t realise until I was looking up the cast details that Yitzhak was played by a woman. She is fantastic as Hedwig’s boyfriend, and Michael Pitt absolutely kills it as Tommy. I’ve seen a few of his performances since, such as in “Funny Games” and the TV show “Broadwalk Empire”, but nothing compares to his character that you want to fail and succeed at the same time, and in many ways, the character of Tommy goes through more development than that of Hedwig.
Finally, like any musical, I have to talk about the music and whilst I don’t normally enjoy musicals at all, and some films including songs that they didn’t need to completely ruined them for me, but HAI’s music adds to an already enjoyable experience. The songs are very catchy and memorable, and what is especially unusual is that because Tommy has stolen Hedwig’s, several songs are repeated in the film but in completely different genres. Hedwig’s is usually more in the glam-rock style, whereas Tommy’s versions are often more hard-rock, and they reflect genuine attitudes of the characters, and quite possibly the cleverest use of this is right at the end when *spoilers* Hedwig reaches her lowest point and walks into a room where Tommy is covering Hedwig’s “Wicked Little Town” (my favourite song in the film) and although the words are slightly different, he changed nothing else, and this is a great symbolism of their reconciliation, despite their past.
Emotionally engaging, well acted, lyrically unique and fun, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is unlike anything that you’ve ever seen before and I mean that in a good way. It’s one of the most memorable movies that I have ever seen and that is no more evident than the fact that I was able to do this whole review from memory. I didn’t have to rewatch the film.
“Hedwig and the Angry” is a film that unless you are homophobic, you’re probably going to enjoy. It’s very racy, very out there and very in your face, but that is a strength in this case. There are very few things about this film that most people won’t find some enjoyment in, even if you’re not into musicals. I wasn’t and I still loved it.
Give it a go, you won’t regret it.