ANGEL BABY

By Adrian Codrington

Cast and Crew
Release Dates
Production Companies
Online Presence
Various Reviews on Internet
Interviews
Information Searching
Synopsis
Cast and Crew: History
Critical Uptake
Critical Horizons
Within Australian National Cinema
Bibliography

Principal Cast

John Lynch .... Harry
Jacqueline McKenzie .... Kate
Colin Friels .... Morris Goodman
Deborra-Lee Furness .... Louise Goodman
Daniel Daperis .... Sam Goodman

 
Directed by

Michael Rymer

 
Writing credits

Michael Rymer

 
Produced by

Jonathan Shteinman
Timothy White

 
Cinematography by

Ellery Ryan

 

Release Dates

Canada - 9 September 1995 (Toronto Film Festival)
Australia - 28 October 1995
Germany - 18 April 1996
Sweden - 20 September 1996
Finland - 6 December 1996
USA - 24 January 1997
Norway - 10 May 1997
Belgium - 4 June 1997
Spain - 13 June 1997
Japan - 14 June 1997
 France - 16 July 1997
Argentina - 9 October 1997
Denmark - 27 March 1998

 

Production Companies

Meridian Films
Stamen

 

Online Presence

I found a decent amount on the Internet concerning Angel Baby, mainly in the form of reviews, most from international sources. Most facts were gathered from the Internet Movie Database, although some seemingly basic facts (i.e. box office takings) were impossible to find anywhere. Interviews were scarce, and I only managed to find two, with Jacqueline McKenzie and John Lynch. The one with Jacqueline McKenzie took place a few years after the release of Angel Baby, although she does mention it briefly. The article on John Lynch was written at the time of Angel Baby's USA release. I speculate that the general lack of comprehensive coverage on the Internet is due to the film being a dark Australian drama, and subsequently on the fringes of public knowledge.

 

Internet Movie Database - http://us.imdb.org

Angel Baby Home Page - http://www.mediapolis.com/angelbaby/

 

Various Reviews on Internet

http://www.anchoragepress.com/document.cfm?id=91&type=collections&classification=Movie+Reviews

http://weeklywire.com/filmvault/slc/a/angelbaby.html

http://movie-reviews.colossus.net/movies/a/angel_baby.html

http://apolloguide.com/mov_fullrev.asp?CID=188

http://www.chl.ca/JamMoviesReviewsA/angel_baby.html

http://www.desnews.com/movies/view/1,1257,81,00.html

http://www.thedaily.washington.edu/archives/1996_Spring/May161996/angel_ba51696.html

http://desert.net/filmvault/slc/a/angelbaby.html

http://www.roughcut.com/reviews/movies/vault/angel_baby.html

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/australian_cinema/9832

http://www.boxoff.com/cgi/getreview.pl?where=Name&filename=All&terms=ANGEL+BAB

http://www.canoe.ca/JamMoviesReviewsA/angel_baby.html

 

Links to more reviews can be found on the Internet Movie Database.

 

Interviews

Jacqueline McKenzie Interview -

http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/article_view.asp?Article_ID=2793&Section=Interviews

 

John Lynch New York Times Story -

http://www.mediapolis.com/angelbaby/lynch-times.html

 

Information Searching

The information I found on Angel Baby was discovered on the Internet. To access this information I used a variety of search engines (e.g. AltaVista, Lycos etc.) and links to Film Databases from the H231 web page. This uncovered many reviews, which provided links to other reviews and so on.

Synopsis

Angel Baby is a dark drama which explores and dwells on the power of love on the edges of the human psyche. Harry is a schizophrenic who lives in Melbourne with his brother, Morris, and his family. He leads a relatively normal life with the help of his medication.

 

At the 'Clubhouse', a place for group therapy, Harry meets Kate. Kate is also a schizophrenic who suffered being raped by her father when she was young. She believes that her guardian angel Astral communicates to her through the answers on the television show Wheel of Fortune. Every day she must record the messages, as these tell her what to do, and how to live her life. Harry and Kate soon become involved, and quickly fall in love. They decide to move in together, and Harry's family and their doctors bless their move, as it is deemed safe as long as they stay on their medication. Together they find an apartment, and Harry begins to search for a job as Kate does odd jobs around the apartment building. When Harry does find a job as a computer programmer, Kate reveals that she is pregnant. The doctor's become concerned as the hormonal changes that come with a woman's pregnancy could cause a relapse into schizophrenia.

 

Harry and Kate continue to prepare for their child regardless. Due to anxiety produced by this news, Morris and Harry argue, and the two do not speak for some time. Harry and Kate decide to quit taking their medicine as it could harm the baby.

 

Before long, their descent back into psychosis begins. The worst begins to happen when Harry loses his job, because he concealed knowledge of his illness, and loses control in the toilets at work. Kate predicted this from the Wheel of Fortune message, and is found in the same state by Morris, who has dropped by their apartment to try and patch things up. Kate is taken to a psychiatric ward. Harry moves back in with Morris and his family, and continues to watch Wheel of Fortune on Kate's behalf, religiously recording the messages sent by Astral. To Harry, the messages indicate his plan of action: 'Run and hide'. Harry goes to see Kate in the psychiatric ward, where she has been heavily drugged, and sneaks her out.

 

They find a building in the city still under construction, and squat there to hide from the outside world. Harry enlists the help of his friends from the Clubhouse to help him look after Kate in the last period of her pregnancy. Morris finds Harry in his old room, looking for Kate's medicine. Later that night, both Morris and Harry go back to the building with Kate's medicine; Harry promising that Morris can take Kate to the hospital if she needs it. Kate has an accident in the toilet and starts bleeding, and is rushed to the hospital. Due to Kate's fear of being cut (from past traumas), the option for a caesarian is ruled out, and the doctors induce labour. The baby is born safely, but Kate has complications. Harry waits outside for the news, and soon gets to see his newborn baby. After asking Morris to look after it, Harry goes for a walk down to a bridge, where he had been with Kate before. He stands on the edge and sees Kate standing next to him, asking, "Should we do it?", just as she had done before.

 

Angel Baby is an amazing film, full of love and trauma, and never does it try to patronise its characters, or use their schizophrenia as an excuse for addressing social issues. It's about the attempts made by people in love to conquer the obstacles placed before them, no matter how huge they may seem to be. The darkness inherent in the film, partly due to its subject matter and partly due to its cinematography, is offset by a peculiar sense of hope and inspiration, as Harry and Kate never seem to give up on each other, yet give up everything else in the name of what they love. The directing is very well executed, as the soundtrack fits the vision perfectly to display mood and emulate the onset of schizophrenia, as shown by scenes in the mall when Kate gets cut, and when Harry loses control in the male toilet's at work.

 

Cast and Crew: History

Michael Rymer studied film at the University of Southern California in the early 1980s. Since then he has written and directed many short films, documentaries, and plays, including The Cut, Darkness at Noon, Dead Sleep, Mommy's Little Monster, and Electric Dreaming. Angel Baby was his directional debut in a feature film. He won an AFI Award in 1995 for best director for his work on Angel Baby. Since then he has made such films as Allie & Me, Victims of Fashion, and In Too Deep.

John Lynch is an Irish actor whose first film role was for Cal in 1984. He started his career in British theatre, playing roles in plays such as Hamlet and Nicholas Nickelby. He has been in such movies as In The Name of the Father, The Secret Garden, Moll Flanders, Sliding Doors, and Some Mother's Son. He won a best actor AFI Award in 1995 for Angel Baby.

Jacqueline McKenzie has starred in many Australian films, such as the controversial Romper Stomper and Mr. Reliable. She graduated from NIDA in 1990, and has been in constant demand since her debut performance in Romper Stomper, which won her a best actress award at the 1992 Stockholm Film Festival. She won a best actress AFI award for Angel Baby.

 

 

Critical Uptake

Angel Baby was Michael Rymer's debut as a director and was hailed as one of the best Australian movies of the year when it was released in 1995. It was nominated for many AFI (Australian Film Institute) Awards, of which it won six or seven (depending on your source). However, unlike Shine, and Australian movie released around the same time and dealing with similar subject matter, Angel Baby did not create a stir in the mainstream film industry. This is because, as one reviewer said, "Shine is an upper; Angel Baby is a downer.".

Angel Baby is the subject of many glowing reviews (see the links provided above), and the worst review I've read is still rather complimentary. However, because of its tragic and harrowingly realistic plot and characters, it is a film that can be an effort to watch. Thus, its darkness repelled many major distributors, and the film got regulated to festivals, and took a long time to be released internationally.

 

The acting was always praised. Jacqueline McKenzie and John Lynch provided an undeniably strong chemistry onscreen, and Colin Friels and Deborra-Lee Furness also contributed strong performances in their supporting roles.

 

Critical Horizons

As almost all the reviews of Angel Baby confer, it is a very dark piece of Australian drama. While systematically praised, it is also explained that it is too sombre and depressing for it to even be picked up by major distributors, let alone become successful in the major Hollywood market. This shows a parallel between Australian national cinema and some Eastern European national cinemas. Angel Baby can be situated amongst films such as the Three Colours Trilogy in terms of its critical appraisal, lack of commercial success, and its dark yet uplifting tale. Angel Baby shows a distinct lack of conformity, as it prefers to show the bare, emotive, and primal souls of these characters rather than tone it down for the sake of a successful release.

Within the Australian National Cinema milieu:

A medium sized English language cinema

Angel Baby's place in the Australian National Cinema milieu is an interesting one: it is both distinctly Australian and not, at the same time. It contains different aspects which contradict each other in terms of defining the film's distinct nationality. Angel Baby manages to remain Australian by focusing in on the ugly and ordinary, even though there is no other indication of where the incidents are taking place.

 

One of the aspects that makes an Australian film 'distinctly' Australian is "the important role played by ugliness and ordinariness" (O'Regan, 1996:233) and Angel Baby certainly has that. The portrayal of two schizophrenics in love and the hardships they face is shockingly bare and revealed. There is no aesthetically pleasing cover that has been thrown over the top to make the situation seem better than it really is. The inner turmoil that these characters experience on screen is uncomfortably realistic, and that is also a testament to the fine acting and directing in the film. Stylistically, the film looks very ordinary. Some crucial scenes (such as the visible beginning of Kate's descent back into madness) take place at the dank and dismal local K-Mart, where there are old ladies shopping and teenagers working at the till for pocket money. This positioning of the ordinary into this extraordinary story highlights just how real the tale seems; just how likely this scenario could be. This is a very Australian trait: the fact that these incidents are happening to real people; people the general viewing public can relate to.

 

Despite the fact that many traits of the movie can seem to be distinctly Australian, Angel Baby could have been made in any national cinema milieu. The cinematography is deliberately dark and moody, and resembles the underbelly of a European city just as well as it does the actual location of Melbourne. The characters are universal and are not reliant on their 'Australianness' to express their personalities. There are also no references whatsoever to the fact that this is taking place in Melbourne, or any other city for that matter. Were it not for background knowledge and possibly the Australian accents, it would be hard to tell where Angel Baby was made at all. In this way, the film resembles many foreign national cinemas in the way that the focus is on the story and character development rather than the typical Australian gimmick of being 'quirky'.

 

Angel Baby represents Australian cinema moving away from creating quirky, Hollywood-like films and establishing its own Australian quality through the characters and their environment, rather than through stereotype humour. It is distinctly Australian in its ordinary environment, yet the story of Angel Baby is universal. Angel Baby represents a maturer Australian national cinema, one that is learning to find its own voice.

 

Bibliography

O'Regan, Tom, 1996, Australian National Cinema, Routledge, London.

Internet Movie Database - http://us.imdb.org