Review: ‘Angel Baby’

Tyro writer-director Michael Rymer, who studied film at USC, has made a grimly impressive first feature with "Angel Baby," a searing love story involving a pair of psychiatric patients. With terrific lead perfs from Irish actor John Lynch and Australian Jacqueline McKenzie, pic should find a niche in specialized theaters after fest exposure later this year. It's also a front-runner in the upcoming Australian Film Institute awards.

Tyro writer-director Michael Rymer, who studied film at USC, has made a grimly impressive first feature with “Angel Baby,” a searing love story involving a pair of psychiatric patients. With terrific lead perfs from Irish actor John Lynch and Australian Jacqueline McKenzie, pic world-preemed at the Brisbane Film Festival and should find a niche in specialized theaters after fest exposure later this year. It’s also a front-runner in the upcoming Australian Film Institute awards.

A remarkably assured debut, “Baby” should click with young auds who’ll connect with the radiant but deeply troubled lovers. With the odds stacked firmly against them, Harry and Kate have to confront sickness, officialdom and bureaucracy before finding, at least for a short while, a serenity in their passion for one another.

They meet at psychiatric classes run by Dr. Norberg (Robyn Nevin) and are soon passionately in love. Kate is all alone in the world; Harry has the backing of his caring brother, Morris (Colin Friels), and Morris’ earth-mother wife, Louise (Deborra-Lee Furness). Morris and Louise have misgivings when Harry announces he and Kate plan to move into a small apartment together, but are endlessly supportive.

Trouble begins when, after numerous ardent bouts of lovemaking, Kate becomes pregnant. Doctors opine she’s in no state to have a child, but, convinced she’s been “chosen” by Astral, a spirit who talks to her via the answers given by participants in a tacky TV quiz show, Kate is determined to have her child. Events move toward a traumatic climax in a maternity hospital where Kate undergoes emergency surgery.

Lynch, effective in supporting roles in “In the Name of the Father” and “Cal, ” is splendid as the disturbed Harry who, determined to make his relationship work, manages to get a job and control his neuroses. But the film belongs to McKenzie, who already showed in “Romper Stomper” and “Traps” that she’s a remarkable young actress; she gets her best chance to date as the troubled, erratic Kate. Friels, Furness and Nevin also turn in strong perfs.

Ellery Ryan’s mobile camerawork, Chris Kennedy’s flawless production design and Dany Cooper’s editing combine to give the film its highly professional look.

More questionable is the music score by John Clifford White, which in the first half of the film works stridently and aggressively against the drama, irritatingly drawing attention to itself; score improves in the second half.

In every other respect this intimate and honest pic, though it undoubtedly will be a tough sell, is a winner.

Angel Baby

Australian

Production

An Australian Film Finance Corp. presentation of a Stamen/Meridian Films Production. (International sales: Southern Star, Sydney.) Produced by Timothy White, Jonathan Shteinman. Directed, written by Michael Rymer.

Crew

Camera (color), Ellery Ryan; editor, Dany Cooper; music, John Clifford White; production design, Chris Kennedy; art direction, Hugh Bateup; costumes, Kerri Mazzocco; sound (Dolby SR), John Phillips; assistant director, Euan Keddie; casting, Alison Barrett, Greg Apps. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 26, 1995. (In Brisbane, Toronto fests.) Running time: 104 MIN.

With

John Lynch, Jacqueline McKenzie, Colin Friels, Deborra-Lee Furness, Robyn Nevin, Daniel Daperis, David Argue, Geoff Brooks, Humphrey Bower, Jane Menelaus.

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