Angels in America

Angels in America
★★★★ / ★★★★

Since this film runs for six hours, Netflix divided the movie into two discs. I will review the first half and then the second half because I saw the latter a couple of days after I saw the former. I admire the first part of this picture because it’s not afraid to fuse realistic and fantastic elements that share one common goal: to show how the AIDS epidemic, pretty much unknown at the time, impacts those people who have been infected and those they care about. But it actually rises above its main thesis: it also manages to tackle issues like denial of one’s homosexuality, what it means to be a lover and a friend, power struggle in the business world, relationships by means of convenience…

On top of all that, the performances are simply electric, especially Al Pacino, Patrick Wilson, Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson. We don’t see much of Streep and Thompson in the first half but whenever they’re on screen, they completely involve the audience because they know how to balance the obvious and the subtle so well. They have a certain elegance that no ordinary actor posesses. As for Pacino, he’s a master of reaching one extreme to the next without ever having to sacrifice his character’s believability. I can argue that he’s one of the most complex characters, out of many, that this film (which is based on a play) has to offer. As Pacino’s protégé, I think this is Wilson’s best performance that I’ve seen. As a closeted Mormon homosexual, he tries so hard to hide who he really is to the point where his emotional pain becomes physical. In most of his scenes, I could feel his sadness, anger, frustration, and (eventual) relief–all at the same time. He has such a poetic face that’s so expressive; I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His relationship with his wife, played by Mary-Louise Parker, is complicated, to say the least, because Wilson considers her as more like a friend but she considers him to be a husband. Other noteworthy actors include Justin Kirk as an AIDS patient who is abandoned by his lover, played by Ben Shenkman. Jeffrey Wright is amazing because he speaks the truth without apologies. He plays multiple characters like Streep, Thompson, and Kirk but Wright is the one that I can relate with the most. The idea of escape is crucial ranging from experiencing hallucinations to doing or saying the opposite of what the person actually means to do or say.

As for the second half, the idea of interconnectedness is more prevalent. Since the characters are finally established, they are allowed to interact and play with each other a bit more. This means that strong acting is at the forefront. But what I found most frustrating was the fantastic elements overshadowing reality half of the time. Even though those fantasy scenes do contribute to the overall big picture, they are so cheesy and slow to the point where I found myself checking the time. I was more invested with the reality because the characters that we care about are dealing with things that have something to do with reality like disease and acceptance. Faith is merely the background and focusing on it too much is distracting at best. I thought the way the film ended was handled well; not everything is neatly tied up and the way the actors looked into the camera to convey their last messages was, strangely enough, effective.

This film has such a huge scope but it delivers on more than one level. I found it consistently interesting because it is character-driven and the characters behave like real people. In end, pretty much all the characters have changed in some way. Even though this was released back in 2003, I still consider it to be one of the most important films of the 2000’s.

4 replies »

  1. Had this movie tanked, it would have been one of the most grandiose failures of modern movie history. But it didn’t.

    In fact, I’m having trouble describing exactly how much I love it. The acting of course is exceptional, but what impresses me the most is just have ambitious it is. How often do you see a script combining spirituality, existensialism, dark comedy and the close and personal like this, and get away with it? That is also why I wasn’t particularly disappointed that it fell apart somewhat in the second half. I was too busy being ecstatic that they had the guts to even try.

    As for the acting, I have to say Justin Kirk really came through to me. I was thrilled when I saw him in Weeds later, a show in which he is consistently brilliant. For some reason, I also find him strangely attractive.

  2. Yep, I agree 100% If I were to describe “Angels in America” in one word, it would be “ambitious.” Man, I just wish they would’ve left most of the fantastic elements in the play. It just… it didn’t work as well. But it’s still very, very good. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen.

    Justin Kirk… Oh man! I thought his acting was good but his character is REALLY annoying. Granted, he’s dying from AIDS and he has the right to be angry because his lover was not by his side, but man, that dude complained A LOT.

    I’m almost done with Season 1 of WEEDS. I was so shocked when I saw him because M-LP and Kirk were on AiA together. But I’m glad he stayed because he’s really funny (even though I don’t find him attractive). I keep thinking he’s gay in real life. I IMDBed him and everything. LOL

    Hunter Parrish… I swear, my gaydar goes off ESPECIALLY during his interviews. *keeps fingers crossed*

  3. Hehe, I see your point about Justin Kirk on AIA, but to me he even manages to soften his character a little bit. His character on Weeds is brilliant, and the first season is interesting (and consistently laugh-out-loud funny) because we actually get a sense of the conflicted relationship between Nancy, Judah and Andy. Dark comedy doesn’t come much better than this.

    And Hunter Parrish, where to start. I’ve sensed something about him too. I saw an interview on an American talk show during the promotional tour for Weeds and Broadway musical ‘Spring Awakening’, and my heart nearly stopped from all the playful gay references. Plus, it turns out he’s a friend of Zac Efron… I know you don’t like him, but this was almost too much information for me to process.

  4. I totally agree with you regarding the fantasy scenes, at some point I stopped looking at the screen and I was just waiting for the scenes to be over (too slow).

    I also like Justin Kirk’s performance, he was annoying I guess because the character had to be annoying.

    What I didn’t like though was Mary-Louise Parker’s role. She WAS annoying, complaining, hallucinating, pathetic and had no sense of purpose whatsoever!

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