Brilliantly acted, moving, darkly funny, and featuring some terrific songs, this has everything you could possibly want from a transsexual, post-punk, neo glam rock opera.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, created by John Cameron Mitchell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, started life as a gig at a punk rock drag night in New York, before swiftly becoming a hit off-Broadway show.
The movie, written, directed by and starring Mitchell as Hedwig, and fresh from successes at both the Sundance and Edinburgh film festivals, is hoping to repeat the success of the musical.
The film takes the form of a tour, as "internationally ignored song stylist" Hedwig and her band play a chain of shopping centre seafood restaurants, while shadowing rock star Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt from Dawson’s Creek), Hedwig’s former protégé and lover, who ran off with her songs when they split up and now refuses to recognise her.
As the tour continues, Hedwig sings about her life and a mixture of flashbacks and animation complement the songs.
Hedwig started life as ‘Hansel’, an effeminate boy in East Berlin who used to listen to the radio by sticking his head in the oven, so as not to annoy his mother.
Dreaming about finding his ‘other half’, Hansel reluctantly submits to a sex-change operation in order to marry a handsome American GI and escape East Berlin.
However, the operation is botched, leaving Hansel with the "angry inch" of the title, and thus Hedwig is born. Finding herself divorced and abandoned in a Kansas trailer park, Hedwig decides to form a rock band and encounters a young lover / protégé in Tommy Gnosis.
As glam-rock musicals go, this is the film that Velvet Goldmine should have been – indeed, a lot of the same producing talent are involved, including producer Christine Vachon.
The acting is superb throughout – Mitchell completely inhabits the role and genuinely makes you care for Hedwig, even during her more bitter outbursts.
There’s a lot of humour in the film, including a couple of very subtle nods towards Spinal Tap - their agent is called Phyllis Stein (geddit?) and the lead guitarist (Miriam Shor in drag as Yitzak) is vaguely reminiscent of Nigel Tufnell. Watch also for the original Korean housewives line-up of the band – one of the film’s funniest moments.
The songs are terrific, too, including a mixture of punk, glam-rock, ballads and so on. Especially impressive is Wicked Little Town, which sounds like a long-lost Beatles original.
Similarly, the use of animation on songs such as The Origin of Love adds considerably to the film while vaguely alluding to another famous rock-opera, Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
In short, don't be put off by the "transsexual musical" label – Hedwig is a hilarious, moving, off-the-wall movie with a cracking soundtrack. Forget Moulin Rouge – this is the must-see musical of the summer. Highly recommended.