Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Posted by martinteller on February 28, 2015
Hansel was born in East Berlin, sired by an American GI who took off. Growing up in a split family in a split country, Hansel experiences a split of his own in the form of gender confusion. He falls in love with his own American GI and becomes Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell). But a botched sex-change operation leaves him (her) in a sexual grey area. Taken to America but abandoned in a trailer, Hedwig meets young Jesus freak Tommy (Michael Pitt) and the two form a musical relationship… but when it turns physical, Tommy can’t handle it and leaves. Now, Hedwig and her band “The Angry Inch” — named after Hedwig’s mutilated anatomy — are following Tommy on tour around the country… as he performs and takes credit for the songs that Hedwig wrote.
As a glam rock musical/opera centered around a transgendered character, the association that instantly leaps to mind is Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’ll cut to the chase and say I enjoyed Hedwig a hell of a lot more than that one. Although undoubtedly campy, it has a sincerity and a solid emotional core that shines through. Mitchell — who also directed and co-wrote the movie with Stephen Trask — delivers a performance that lets Hedwig’s pain peek out behind the flamboyance. It’s a character who is guarded behind attitude and persona, while simultaneously being vulnerable and exposed. Likewise, behind the flash and bombast of the film is a heartfelt journey of hurt, loss, self-discovery and rebirth.
Among the “flash and bombast” are wonderful animated sequences, flights of fancy (like Hedwig’s trailer transforming into a stage) and a narrative structure that tells Hedwig’s story through a marriage of song and flashback. There’s an inspired bit of gender-bending casting in Miriam Shor as Hedwig’s conflicted sidekick/backup singer/lover Yitzhak. The casting not only provides a little meta bonus to the issues of sexual identity, but also lends a higher-pitched vocal counterpoint to Mitchell’s glam growl.
The one sticking point for me is that I didn’t love the songs. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch, and actually I really liked most of them, but none of them totally won me over. Part of this may be because I’m not a big fan of glam rock in general. Another part is because I prefer songs in musicals to be more universal, not so closely tied to the narrative. This is probably why my favorite was “The Origin of Love”, with the least character-specific lyric of them. It can be fully enjoyed out of context. Nonetheless, all the songs are tuneful and well-crafted, and tell an unusual story that is consistently interesting. Rating: Very Good (86)