Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Rated R for sexual content and language.

Starring John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor.
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell.
Written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask.
Distributed by Fine Line Features.
95 minutes.

Photo ©Fine Line Features. All rights reserved.

An Even More Challenging Search for Love

If it's hard these days for straight people to find true love, imagine how difficult it must be for homosexuals. Not only is their playing field more limited, they must fight for social acceptance and face prejudice nearly everywhere they go. Now imagine how hard finding love must be for someone who can no longer be neatly defined sexually. Such is the sad plight of the titular hero of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Hedwig doesn't make her (she prefers the feminine pronoun when being referred to) story strictly sad for the audience, however. The tale of her search for love and identity is filled with catchy, bouncy glam-rock. The movie is adapted from an off-Broadway musical, and the music tells as much of the story as Hedwig's voice-overs do. It's a melodramatic story, but what else should we expect from a rock opera?

Hedwig, played by first-time director and screenwriter John Cameron Mitchell, was born a boy named Hansel in East Germany, living with his mother after his father had been driven out. His philosophy of love, explained very well during the number "The Origin of Love" with the help of animation, considers the idea that men and women were once joined as one, but then the forces of the heavens split them apart and they've been looking for their other halves ever since. Hansel falls for a U.S. sergeant who promises to help him cross the Berlin Wall if he undergoes a sex change. Hansel gets started by renaming himself Hedwig, but the operation is a botch-up. Once in America, she is abandoned, but it is only the beginning for her rock career.

That path is less than glorious as well, and the reason it is has something to do with Hedwig's alienation with a new lover. In the meantime, she has attracted a small number of fans who love to listen to her life story and her music. Quite often, the music is raucous, as in the energetic song "Angry Inch" (which also happens to be the name of Hedwig's band). The fans happily groove to it, but it often bothers and shocks the patrons of the diner/stage venues where Hedwig's band often finds itself booked.

Depending on how much you dig transvestite musicals, you may side with the fans or with the diner patrons. Ultimately, the movie is what you expect it to be -- a colorful, high-energy rock show which will remind a lot of people of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But it also has a poignant side on display, thanks to Hedwig's tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve. Mitchell turns in an all-out performance, both on-stage and in moments of regretful introspection. He instills his character with a lot of bitterness, but behind that bitterness is a lot of passion, and that passion can be heard in the lively songs, many of which sound better than most of the banal stuff that can be found on the radio these days.

I didn't find the experience of watching Hedwig and the Angry Inch to be as transcendent as others have reportedly found it, but it was an enjoyable show all the same. The audience can easily sympathize with the travails of Hedwig. We have all faced obstacles in our searches for love, often shattering our ideals in the process. Hedwig may have twice the heartache with her experiences, but it only means she will be searching for her resolution with that much more conviction.

Rating: 7/10

©Jeffrey Chen, Jan. 7, 2002