December 21, 2003

AVENGING 'ANGELS': I've now watched

AVENGING 'ANGELS': I've now watched all six hours of "Angels in America," including several of them twice. I've already gone on record as saying that I loved the first half, and there was a lot that I liked about the second as well- great performances (especially by Al Pacino, Ben Shenkman, Justin Kirk, and Patrick Wilson), and wonderfully drawn characters who I would've wanted to spend even more than six hours with.
However, there were quite a few things I didn't like about part 2, which sort of dampened my enthusiasm about the whole work. I wasn't as offended by it as Andrew Sullivan (then again, I also don't have a decades-old blood feud with Tony Kushner), but I also can't agree with near-unanimous reaction of critics who thought 'Angels' was the greatest work ever to air on television. Here, a few nitpicks:
- The story is supposedly set in 1985 New York. But everything about the city shown in the film looks like 2003- and none of the characters wear clothes or haircuts indicative of 1985.
- All the stuff with Emma Thompson as the Angel? Trite, nonsensical, and very very silly. How many times can she scream "eye! eye! eye!"? Which brings up an even larger problem, with the film's theology: while it flirts at different times with Judaism, Catholicism, and Mormonism- and borrows liberally from the iconography of all three- in the end 'Angels' seemingly rejects religiosity all together in favor of secular humanism. Which, if you think about it, is really cheating.
- The most interesting character in the piece, the closeted-Alex P. Keaton lawyer Joe Pitt (Wilson), is left with a maddingly unresolved character arc. And as his wife, Mary-Louise Parker is even more annoying than she is on "The West Wing," which wasn't previously thought to be possible.
- I don't object to Kushner's leftism on its face, or his depiction of Roy Cohn as an evil, repugnant bastard. But the one thing I can't get past is the sight of Cohn (Pacino) being taunted at the time of his death by an apparition of Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep), whose execution he had pushed for three decades earlier. But, history having now all but definitively proven that Rosenberg was in fact guilty of espionage and treason, why would Cohn, after a lifetime of misdeeds, be haunted by her as he dies? Is Kushner arguing that Ethel was innocent, or that she was guilty but we should root for her because McCarthyism is more a crime than selling out one's country to Stalin's Russia? Have the dozens of critics who claimed this the best TV program of the year asked that question themselves?
Other than that, yea, great movie.
As a postscript, I saw a commercial the other night for Gateway that seemed to (probably unintentionally) parody 'Angels'- we see a couple lying in bed when something begins to crash through their bedroom ceiling. But rather than the angel that drops in on Prior Walter, we see the hind legs of a cow- Gateway's trademark. The cow, however, doesn't speak, or have sex with either of the couple, or lead them into heaven.

Posted by Stephen Silver at December 21, 2003 11:57 PM
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