← Back to Reviews

Hedwig and the Angry Inch


Year of release

Directed by
John Cameron Mitchell

Written by
Stephen Trask (story)
John Cameron Mitchell (story and script)

John Cameron Mitchell
Michael Pitt
Miriam Shor

Hedwig and the Angry Inch


Plot – Hedwig (Mitchell) is a transsexual punk rock singer from East Berlin. After her ex-boyfriend, Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt) becomes a huge rock star by stealing her songs, Hedwig follows his tour, playing a tour of her own with her band. Along the way we learn about her story and how she has ended up here.

This film plays like the love child of This is Spinal Tap and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Telling the incredible, fantastical tale of Hedwig it sort of feels like a surreal, sex-fuelled Forrest Gump (even linking the story to a historic event). Going by that plot, those thoughts and its unique genre placing as a camp punk-rock musical/opera on the surface you would expect this to be nothing more than just loud, brash and superficial. And while there may be an element of that there is also so much more here than just that. It's a film that is full of heart and sincerity. A film that toes the line between humour and poignancy. A film that is both joyous and heartbreakingly tragic. I may even go as far to say that it's a film that is rather oddly beautiful.

For an outsider looking in you may think the film and the character will not have much to say to you, much for you to identify with. After all who is going to be able to relate to the story of an East German transsexual punk rock singer? Except that it's so much more than that, it's about themes and emotions that are almost universal. It's about feeling lost and like an outsider, trying to find a place to belong. And it's about dealing with love both lost and found. As a result we can probably all relate to Hedwig in some way.

This is just a stunning effort from John Cameron Mithcell. As the film's writer, director and star its a truly immense accomplishment for him. His direction is raw, but so effective at imbuing the film with such a voracious energy and life. His script is a terrifically witty and fun affair, teeming with acerbic humour. And as the self described "internationally ignored song stylist" Hedwig, Mitchell's performance is just a revelation, absolutely mesmerising. It's probably the most I've enjoyed any performance in quite a while. Hedwig is like a cross between Lady Gaga and....and....no actually just comparing her to Lady Gaga just about does it! Well perhaps with a dose of 70s era David Bowie thrown in. The character is outlandish and very funny, but is also a fragile and rather sad creation. Mitchell brings so much depth and emotion to the role, grasping both the caustic humour but also the melancholy of Hedwig. And the fact that he has a stunning voice doesn't hurt either.

Of course this movie would not work in any capacity whatsoever without the songs. And what an amazing success they are. Written by Stephen Trask they seem to channel a bit of a Ramones vibe and are just absolutely infectious. It may have been only my first viewing but before long I already found myself singing along to them. What is most impressive about them is that they are not just purely throwaway efforts only for entertainment. Each song plays a part in moving the story along, detailing Hedwig's journey to this point and adding layers to the character and his emotions. I don't think there's a dud song in the bunch, and my personal favourites would have to be the bonkers but brilliant “Origin of Love”, the fun and sweet “Wig in a Box” and the lovely “Midnight Radio”. Though the one I've been singing most since then is actually “Angry Inch.”

While Mitchell is tremendous there is someone who comes damn close to matching him – Michael Pitt as Tommy Gnosis. As the lost, troubled soul he is great but it's his scenes alongside Mitchell that are truly remarkable, the two sharing a terrific chemistry. Of special note has to be their final scene near the end of the film. With both men exposing their flesh and their souls it is a very powerful and beautiful moment. They don't actually say a single word, telling the whole story with their facial expressions and it is just wonderful.

The film also looks tremendous. The clothes, make-up and sets all have a tremendously flamboyant and extravagant feel to them. Hedwig's preposterous hair, full-on makeup and series of sensational, garish costumes make it a lush, glam rock style picture to behold. Oh and there is also some lovely use of crude but delightful animation, which is just insanely charming. This is especially true whilst accompanying Origin of Love.

Conclusion – Just a delight. A terrific find for me. Yes it's surreal. Yes it's bizarre and weird. As a result it's refreshingly original, whilst also being somehow believable, very moving and terrifically feel good. I was just expecting something silly and fun. Instead I was rewarded with something much more. Wonderful