Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Watching the big-screen adaptation of the off-Broadway hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch, you're likely to recoil at what the titular post-op German transsexual has going on below her belt. No, I'm not referring to the anatomical remnant of her botched sex-change operation, which the rocker boasts about, Bowie-style, in a rave-up titled "Angry Inch." In fact, in this post-Boogie Nights climate, it's a bit of a cop out that the audience is never treated to even a peek at the mangled member.
What I'm referring to is the Hedwig's propensity for donning acid-washed jeans and other trashy fashion faux pas, including her Farrah Fawcett-esque rain-gutter coiffure and her midriff-baring slash Ts. Unlike most of what John Cameron Mitchell's invigorating, intoxicating musical has to offer, I'm praying that Hedwig's truck stop-honey aesthetic won't catch on.
Hedwig, played by writer/director Mitchell, comes on strong almost immediately. The film opens at a chain restaurant (by setting her gigs in a series of identical seafood restaurants, the film seems to be poking fun at its own static staginess). Hedwig and an androgynous band of Eastern European misfits take the stage and belt out a bold, rollicking ode to strength and survival ("Tear Me Down"). In between numbers (written and arranged by Stephen Trask) and/or gigs, the acerbically witty Hedwig describes her odyssey from gentle, glam rock-loving Berlin schoolboy to genitally disfigured Kansas trailer tart to an "internationally ignored song stylist," all with the deadpan jadedness of a less strung-out Nico.
On the advice of band manager Phyllis Stein (SCTV's Andrea Martin), Hedwig and company's touring schedule dogs that of teen alt-rock sensation Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), Hedwig's former lover and protégé, who stole her songs and made them hits. While Hedwig ponders heartbreak, betrayal, and her gender-identity crisis, her bandmates contemplate even cheesier gigs in the entertainment biz, which threatens to break up the band.
In this Behind the Music-saturated culture, where most rock 'n' roll scandal is passé, Angry Inch's story isn't all that novel. And the film loses some emotional ground thanks to Hedwig's silly co-dependency issues with Tommy--why wreck your life over someone half your age and not nearly as worldly? But overall, this glittery, lively paean to drag, transformation, identity, and self-acceptance is not only resonant but perfectly pitched.