Hedwig and the Angry Inch

After undergoing a botched sex change operation, Hansel becomes Hedwig, marries an American GI and leaves East Berlin behind for rural Kansas. Abandoned in a trailer park, Hedwig turns to his love of glitter rock and creates a goth icon out of seventeen year old Army brat Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt, "Finding Forrester") who steals Hedwig's music and leaves her. Writer/director/star John Cameron Mitchell adapts his and lyricist/composer Stephen Trask's smash off-Broadway musical, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," for the big screen.

Laura's Review: A

The rock musical is created anew with John Cameron Mitchell's dynamic, fearlessly individual vision and Stephen Trask's perfectly evocative music and lyrics. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" plays like a well-established cult film the first time you see it.

Present day Hedwig is obsessed with her ungrateful creation, Tommy Gnosis. As he tours huge rock arenas, Hedwig and her band, The Angry Inch, follow playing a chain of seafood restaurants called Bilgewater's. Hedwig's manager (Andrea Martin) futilely tries to keep the still lovesick Hedwig from stalking Tommy while negotiating a law suit against him. Meanwhile, Hedwig's husband and backup singer Yitzhak (played by a woman, Miriam Shor) pines over Hedwig's wigs while she pines over Tommy.

The stunningly androgynous Mitchell spins Hedwig's tale of two halves straining to become one with wit, intelligence and bawdy humor (after his botched op, Hedwig observes 'My first day as a woman and already it's that time of the month'). He's taken his own experiences as an Army brat and melded them with a German babysitter he once knew to create Hedwig, introduced as young Hansel (Ben Mayer-Goodman) whose home town is itself divided in two by the Berlin Wall. Weaned on Armed Forces radio, Hedwig (Hansel's mother's name, which he adopts along with her passport) worships a personal pantheon comprised of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.

After a hilarious Gummi Bear courtship by the fickle Luther, Hedwig finds herself in a dead end trailer park, ironically left for a young boy. Plucky Hedwig forms a band with Korean Army brides while sexually servicing their husbands for cash. Once her eyes lock with Tommy's, 'a seventeen year old classic rock loving Jesus freak with a fish on his truck,' she's lost and quickly seduces him while babysitting his infant sibling. In present day, Hedwig does meet up again with Tommy in ironically similar circumstances before she learns how to heal herself and unite her two halves.

Mitchell hasn't simply recorded his musical, but inventively places his camera and changes his locations (the play is smartly recalled when Hedwig's Kansas trailer wall drops down to transform into a stage for an Angry Inch performance). In addition to the fine work by Directory of Photography Frank DeMarco and Production Designer Therese DePrez ("I Shot Andy Warhol"), costume design by Madonna's personal stylist Arianne Phillips ("The Crow") nails the home made glitter rock look. Wig and Make-up Designer Mike Potter, who designed the original Hedwig look for the stage, repeats his fabulous work for the film.

John Cameron Mitchell's confident, unique voice makes "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" a true American original and the best American movie of the year.

Robin's Review: B+

Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) was born a boy named Hansel in East Berlin. As a teen seeking his "other half," he reluctantly agrees to a sex change operation in order to marry American G.I. Luther (Maurice Dean Wint). The operation, performed by a hack surgeon, is botched, and the "angry inch" is all that's left. Now a "she", Hedwig comes to America, is abandoned by Luther, forms a rock band and falls for her 17-year old lover/protégé, Tommy, only to be rejected by him later, too. She and her band, The Angry Inch, shadows the now-famous Tommy Gnosis across the US (for revenge?), but Hedwig is really in search of her lost other half in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

First time helmer John Cameron Mitchell, along with composer/lyricist Stephen Trask, created and starred in their acclaimed off-Broadway production that has become the movie. And quite a movie it is in its eclectic variety of songs, outrageous costumes, sets and makeup and, especially, a riveting performance by Mitchell as the title character. Mitchell and Trask have reinvented the movie musical and couple it with the underlying story of just whom Hedwig is and what she is looking for.

I am, by far, not a big fan of musicals. Sure, there are exceptions, like Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz" and "Cabaret," but, for the most part, they are just not my cup of tea. "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is an exception, though, with its combination of humor, wit and a collection of tunes that covers musical styles ranging from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and Meatloaf to David Bowie to The Sex Pistols. The original songs, by Stephen Trask (also appearing as one of the members of the band The Angry Inch), are full of energy and variety and, even though it's not my kind of music, I found every one entertaining and fun. The audience I saw "Hedwig" with thought so, too.

The main attraction to this one-man/woman show is the presence of its star. John Cameron Mitchell gives a solid, sometimes fun, sometimes angry performance as a person searching for self-enlightenment and love. As a young boy growing up in East Berlin, Hansel is abused by his G.I. father and raised by his German mother in a tiny flat so small that "mother would make me play in the oven" where he listened to pop music on Armed Forces Radio. Later, as a young man, he meets Luther, another G.I. and is swept off of his feet. The ensuing Angry Inch incident comes soon after.

Flash forward to a trailer park in Junction City, Kansas, and Luther is leaving Hedwig for another boy. Frustrated and broke, she takes on baby-sitting and the odd "job" to make ends meet. She also forms a band with four Korean housewives and the musical talent of Hedwig is born. She meets, falls for and loses young Tommy, who steals her songs and goes off to become a rock sensation. Jealous and angry, Hedwig and her new band begins a campaign to shadow Tommy's tours and, with the help of her manager, Phyllis Stein (Andrea Martin), is trying get a law suit going against the star for stealing her songs. Hedwig and The Angry Inch get gigs, not coincidentally, at a chain of seafood restaurants that just happen to be next to the forums where Tommy Gnosis is playing. Things finally come to a head, so to speak, in New York City.

The popularity of the off-Broadway musical and its offshoots have garnered a ready-made audience base for "Hedwig." The wit, humor, music and search for identity has great appeal to young adults, but the charismatic presence of Mitchell makes this a cut above what it could have been. It is this one-man/woman show that casts its spotlight on its "internationally ignored" rock star and Mitchell is outstanding in the role. There isn't a lot going on with other characters, though there are amusing little sidebars, like Hedwig's backup singer/lover, Yitzhak (Miriam Shor), deciding to break away from the band to join a Polynesian road show of "Rent" as a Puerto Rican drag queen. The low budget that the moviemakers have for the production belies the quality of the film. Attention to details - Hedwig's costumes and outrageous "Cabaret"-like makeup; the seedy trailer park setting; and, the kitschy seafood restaurants - are loads of fun to watch and lend the appropriate air to the proceeds, all on what has to be a beer budget.

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" may not be for everybody, but the energy of the effort, the songs, the imaginative sets and costumes and a fast steady pace make it a pleasure to watch. If you're a fan of contemporary, edgy music, it is an even bigger draw.