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Hedwig and the Angry Inch

(2001) *** 1/2 R
95 min. New Line Studios. Directors: John Cameron Mitchell, Andrew Marcus. Cast: John Cameron Mitchell, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask, Theodore Liscinski, Rob Campbell.

Despite sometimes lamenting the output, film fans have been offered a pretty good variety of quality films touching on the gay and lesbian experience. Highlighting that point is the arrival of a new film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which, like the best of queer cinema, transcends a niche label. Certainly, this "post-punk neo-glam rock musical" will not suit all tastes, but a double feature of Moulin Rouge and Hedwig might be an eye-opening challenge to pose to your favorite film buff. Hedwig's depth of emotion, streak of crafty humor, and sheer, balls-out (if you'll forgive the expression) creativity rival and usually exceed the borrowed, reheated leftovers of Moulin Rouge.

After securing the rights to the original stage play, Killer Films' large team of producers nurtured the creative duo of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask without imposing disastrous Hollywood demands. Mitchell authored the script, Trask the music and lyrics. Mitchell stars and directs, Trask acts and performs music. Expanding the original punk concert narrative to a tour with flashbacks (and animated sequences), Mitchell and Trask provide a seamless experience.

Mitchell's leading performance is both vibrantly funny and irreverent and, when it counts, devastatingly poignant. Not every moment works, but Trask's surprisingly tuneful score (the punk is indeed balanced by "glam rock"—or show tune? — ballads) buoys the film when the pace and energy threaten to flag. Mitchell is pretty much the whole show here, but he's ably supported by Miriam Shor (whose drag mirrors Mitchell's, if not as convincingly), a spunky Andrea Martin, and Michael Pitt (well-cast as a confused glam-rocker, though his singing is dubbed by triple-threat Trask). The production design (including costumes) may well demand Oscar attention next year. Hedwig offers plenty to see and hear and feel.

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