John Lynch and Jacqueline McKenzie star in ANGEL BABY, directed by Michael Rymer for Cinepix Film Properties.

Angel Baby (1995, Michael Rymer)

Regardless of quality, Angel Baby will always have a special nostalgia for me. Years ago I was admonishing a friend for not watching foreign films and he challenged me, asking for an example of a recent, excellent foreign film. I gave him Angel Baby. I think it was a few days later he came back and complained Angel Baby, an Australian film, wasn’t really a foreign film. Having just watched it again (as I prepare to retire my laserdiscs), I think will go out and say Australian films are not American films. They are foreign films. Maybe not all of them, probably not most of them, but certainly Angel Baby.

Whenever there’s a Hollywood movie about the mentally ill or handicapped, it tends to fail. These films aren’t necessarily complete failures, but they always somewhat fail. The first major problem with these endeavors is their attempt to make the mental illness or handicap an avenue for (somewhat respectful) comedy. We, the presumably mentally fit audience, are expected to laugh at the characters. We might think they’re cute, but they’re still funny. The characters immediately are not treated with respect. Angel Baby never lets the audience laugh after the opening credits, doesn’t even let them crack a smile, at these characters. It does let the audience sympathize with the “fit” characters, but it never lets the mentally ill characters become pitiable. Never even approaches it.

The second major difference is in the conclusion. Most of these films promise a bright future. The film being the story of reaching the bright future. Except the bright future is tacked, so the film isn’t really that journey, but that’s not the point. Angel Baby doesn’t pander in that way. It tells its story and it tells it beautifully. Michael Rymer is still around (after years of Hollywood dreck), he’s directing “Battlestar Galactica” and co-writing a few of the episodes too. That work, however, good, doesn’t compare to Angel Baby. Angel Baby is perfectly directed, beautifully written, beautifully acted. Jacqueline McKenzie was so good in it, I almost saw Deep Blue Sea. She’s still making interesting films, however, you just have to get them from Australia. John Lynch is sort of around, but not in anything I’d see. Of the two, I suppose Lynch is best.

Angel Baby is not out on DVD in the US (I think Paramount’s got the rights, so it’ll probably never happen) and the Australian disc is hard to find and appears to be pan and scan.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Michael Rymer; director of photography, Ellery Ryan; edited by Danny Cooper; music by Chris Gough; production designer, Chris Kennedy; produced by Timothy White and Jonathan Shteinman; released by Cinepix Film Properties.

Starring John Lynch (Harry), Jacqueline McKenzie (Kate), Colin Friels (Morris) and Deborra-Lee Furness (Louise).


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