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When Harry Met Kate

Angel Baby
Sight for Soaring Eyes: Harry (John Lynch) finds love and romance easy to grasp and hard to keep.

Australian 'Angel Baby' shines with intelligences

By Richard von Busack

DOOMED IN THE WAKE of Shine's success to be considered the other Australian movie about mental illness, Angel Baby stands on its own as a forcefully directed story of crazy love. Nerve-case Harry (John Lynch of Some Mother's Son) meets Kate (Jacqueline McKenzie) in group therapy; the two move in together for a passionate if inevitably tragic romance. Many of director Michael Rymer's compositions are impressive (particularly a shot that spirals down on a pair of lovers from the ceiling), and cinematographer Ellery Ryan has given Melbourne the look of a city you could easily go nuts in--a set of glass-box towers shot in dark blues and blacks.

Angel Baby is quick--like Shine, it careens. David and Lisa couldn't boast a chase scene like Harry's pursuit of a skater who "has some of Kate's blood" (the skater had dabbed at her cut knee after the two collided). McKenzie is bright and intense as a mad girl who gets messages from her guardian angel through the Australian version of Wheel of Fortune. Since Kate lives in a country with socialized medicine, McKenzie portrays her with less social commentary than is usually the case with the mentally ill in American movies; her craziness doesn't reflect on a sick society. Kate has a regal quality--she's in touch with the angels, and the rest of us aren't. Lynch contrasts her electric lunacy with a wistful saint's compassion for his own reasons.

If I have reservations, it's because the topic of the mentally ill is exhaustingly popular in modern drama. Sometimes the mad are in movies to make us admire the holiness of fools or to teach us a lesson about bearing our own crosses. The appeal of a mad part to actors goes without need of explanation, but most of the time, it's more fun for them than it is for us. The appeal of madness as a subject to Australian and New Zealand filmmakers is a little more elusive. Both are depressingly rational countries, enormous floating suburbs, which might explain why so many of their directors like to make movies about people who tear it all up. The best Australian and New Zealand directors, Peter Jackson and Jane Campion, take not just society apart but also reality. Angel Baby is so constricted by a conventional story of love and loss that I was too aware of the technique to do anything but commend the technique. It's fine subgenre work in a subgenre I don't care for. There's too much method in this kind of madness.

Angel Baby (R; 105 min.), directed and written by Michael Rymer, photographed by Ellery Ryan and starring John Lynch and Jacqueline McKenzie.

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From the February 6-12, 1997 issue of Metro

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