Angel Baby

Director: Michael Rymer

The winner of numerous prizes at the last Australian Film Awards, Michael Rymer’s Angel Baby is a stunning feature debut. Trained in the U.S. as an actor and writer as well as a director, Rymer demonstrates a sure grasp of all three skills in this searing portrait of the highs and lows of a love affair between two troubled spirits.
Harry (John Lynch) is a bright, loving young man whose life is blighted by periodic bouts of psychosis. At the clinic where he receives medication and counselling he meets and falls in love with Kate (Jacqueline McKenzie), a highly-strung and compulsive beauty who reluctantly allows him to enter her private world of magic and mythology. The film traces the couple’s intense relationship, which is tested to its limits when Kate becomes pregnant and they decide to ignore the advice of doctors and family.
Angel Baby derives much of its power from Rymer’s unblinkered commitment to his characters, whose highly subjective states of mind are captured through a winning combination of sharply humorous observation and unabashed displays of naked emotion. The film opens with an amusing sketch that’s reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with Harry attempting to control a group of fellow psychiatric patients on the loose in a public bowling alley. Rymer then switches to a more realistic mode to portray Harry’s home life with his brother’s sympathetic family.
Angel Baby doesn’t have a political axe to grind, but it’s clearly on the side of its outsider protagonists, who are discriminated against by prejudiced employers. Harry has to lie in order to secure a job, from which he is sacked despite his good work when his medical history comes to light. The tragic irony of the couple’s predicament is that their efforts to establish a ‘normal’ life – setting up house together and foregoing their medication in the interests of their unborn baby’s health – are actively discouraged by the authorities. Forced to battle with their own demons as well as the outside world, Harry and Kate’s brabe stab at salvation is powerfully moving.
Crucial to the film’s success are two brilliant performances by John Lynch and Jacqueline McKenzie. Rymer is clearly very good with actors, but then he shines in just about all other departments as well. Angel Baby has an extraordinary visual design, with dynamic camera movement, a carefully controlled colour scheme (the superb cinematography is by Ellery Ryan), and one of the most effective sound-tracks for some time.

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