Monday, September 21, 2009

Angels in America (2003)

Ok, so I'm doing a Mini-series, but I really could make the argument that this is simply one long movie. But it doesn't matter because Angels in America is one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

Based on the Tony Award winning play, the incredibly complex "film" follows Prior (Justin Kirk), a gay man in the 1980's who discovers that he has AIDS, causing his long-time boyfriend Louis (Ben Shenkman) to question whether or not he wants to spend the next few years watching the man he loves waste away to nothing. Prior also begins having dreams, telling him of an Angel who is to come to him and give him a message.

There's also a plot about the real life Roy Cohn, a self-loathing, anti-Semitic, homophobic gay Jewish lawyer who also discovers that he has AIDS, causing him to reflect on his accomplishments, mainly using his power to get Ethel Rosenberg executed (she appears to him in visions, where she is portrayed by Meryl Streep).

Also, there's the story of Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson), a gay Mormon lawyer who keeps his Valium addicted wife Harper (Mary Louise Parker) at a distance because of his lack of attraction to her. The only real affection they show each other is the "buddy kiss", a quick peck on the lips. His plot follows Harper's mental descent as well as his own self-discovery of his own sexuality.

The storylines all interconnect, and you have actors playing multiple characters, for example, Emma Thompson plays The Angel of America, a homeless woman, and Prior's nurse and Meryl Streep plays a male Rabbi and Joe Pitt's mother. There's also Jeffrey Wright, who plays Prior's friend who is also Roy Cohn's nurse, having to put up with his homophobic, racist remarks. Also, it's very abstract, so for those who demand realism in their movies, please back away. For example, Harper has a drug induced hallucination that clashes with a dream of Prior's and the two meet in this weird dream space. Not mention the dreams where an angel may or may not be visiting Prior.

And while the plot seems very heavy, it's actually quite funny, something you wouldn't expect in a film chronicling AIDS in the 80's, but there are several moments where I laughed out loud. That said, it can also be very sad, breaking your heart in one fell swoop, one scene in particular left me emotionally drained.

It's a very layered piece, talking about politics, the AIDS epidemic, religion, faith, and several other topics all at once and without seeming preachy at all. In fact, you could watch the film straight through and simply take it as is and not try to get into the messages of the film, it's that subtle.

The cast is, of course, brilliant. The film actually won all 4 acting Emmys given out that year, and it's justly deserved, with every single person delivering an absolutely astounding performance. It really says something about the level of acting when everyone is on equal footing with Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, but they are. For me to try and explain why each person is brilliant could take all day, and really, you should discover it for yourself.

There is no way I could have even given the film the treatment is deserves, because it's simply one of the most powerful pieces of film/TV ever produced, having a basic human resonance that allows anyone watching it to feel a tug on their very soul, making them connect with every character and pity them, dislike them, laugh with them, or cry for them.

There is nothing else that can be said except that I implore everyone to watch this.

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