Wednesday, October 8, 1997

Angel Baby

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 1997 at 12:00 AM

The premise of this 1995 Australian movie is that Harry loves Kate and that they're both, each in a singular way, as mad as proverbial March hares.

Harry, played by John Lynch, he of the perpetual and sympathetic hangdog expression, seems the more stable of the two, noticeably childlike but, on a good day, presentable enough. Kate, however, is a trip. Played by Jacqueline McKenzie as a bundle of pinched nerves, eyes darting about as mercurial moods flash across her face, she believes she has a guardian angel named Astro, who is sending her messages via a particularly ghastly Aussie version of the TV show "Wheel of Fortune." None of this strikes Harry as particularly odd and their romance progresses in its antic way until Kate becomes pregnant and stops taking her medication. From there the film hurls toward inevitable tragedy.

Angel Baby, written and directed by Michael Rymer, is an odd mix of grit and sentiment, a hard look at madness peppered with some hoary clichés. One appreciates that Kate is not a sympathetic figure -- disruptive, annoying and tightly wrapped in her private world, she seems dangerously unhinged. This is a nice change from the old movie trope (popular in the '60s and '70s) of madness as a picturesque form of rebellion. Lynch's Harry is also an unhappy mess, seeking solace between bouts of disabling panic.

But while these two seem kinetic and real, the other "crazies" in the film, when not being used for low-comedy relief, tend to shuffle about like extras from a George Romero zombie fest. And Lynch's immediate family -- his brother Morris (Colin Friels) and sister-in-law Louise (Deborra-Lee Furness) -- are kindly stick figures.

Still, if the film doesn't go quite far enough in its quest for realism, it has an admirable edge, turning its gaze toward a place where love and madness become indistinguishable.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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