Saturday, June 5, 2004

A plague of angels best avoided

Please, please, please do not waste your life on “Angels in America” on the ABC next week. It will bring you no rewards, no profundity, it may even trash your opinion of the excellent HBO (“The Sopranos”, “Six Feet Under” and “Sex and the City”).

Emma Thompson should be amazing as the archangel with personal oversight of the American dream, but she’s just kinda shouty. Which sums up the package: so self-consciously over-the-top it hurts.

It should be so much better. With its themes of AIDS, gay identity/solidarity, religion and corruption it could be “Six Feet Under” as a contemporary Biblical allegory. The concept of a HIV positive gay man in New York as the Lord’s prophet is brilliant.

A shame the dialogue is so melodramatic you spend the entire experience flinching.

The best line is: “Her? She’s my ex-lover’s new boyfriend’s Mormon mother.”

Thomson (as a hospital nurse with a Brooklyn accent): “Even for New York in the 1980s, that’s weird.”

Despite the huge billing given Thompson (frankly, disappointing), Al Pacino and Meryl Streep the production stands or falls on the performances of Patrick Wilson (a right wing Mormon judicial associate who drafted critical anti-gay rights judgements who’s in the process of coming out of the closet), Justin Kirk (drag queen and prophet) and Ben Shenkman (fairly unlikeable character who runs out on dying lover and spends a lot of time whining about how awful he is for doing so). And they don’t have it, at least not with the lines they’ve been given.

But maybe the unconvincing over-emoting (you can almost here the director yelling “Don’t hold back, emote some more – except you Meryl, just try and look stunned and vacant darling, there’s a dear”) has to do with the script's origins on Broadway where it was originally entitled: “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes”.

I suspect Alan Ball should have been hauled in to handle the TV movie adaptation.

High points? Pacino as a compellingly corrupt lawyer – not that we’ve seen him in that role before – delivers brilliantly the exchange: “I may have sex with men, but I’m not a homosexual, homosexuals are powerless. I pick up that phone and dial sixteen digits, you know who I got on the line?”

“The President.”

“Better, his wife.”

But these moments do not relieve an otherwise unengaging failure of a production with special effects that don’t live up to the average episode of Buffy (you can almost see the wires holding Thompson up).

Okay, it’s amusing to have a travel agent hiding in your fridge.

Still, shame on The Age for just recycling The Washington Post’s delusional ramblings.

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