Film Review: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Words by Kyle Dolan

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John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows Hedwig Robinson, an “internationally-ignored” genderqueer punk rock singer from East Berlin. The story follows Hedwig’s journey, which begins with her being forced into a sex-change operation in order to marry an American soldier, only for him to leave her a year later, on the day the Berlin Wall is torn down. The film uses the destruction of the Berlin Wall as a metaphor to represent the struggle for identity faced by the LGBT+ community. Hedwig is more than a traditional woman or man, and this film deconstructs and reconstructs philosophies and religious attitudes towards love and identity.

The David Bowie-inspired music written by Stephen Trask is pitch perfect. Its mixture of punk and glam rock heightens the emotional beats of the film in ways that dialogue wouldn’t be able to. Often rock-musicals can have a watered down and cleaner sound, but Hedwig is proper balls-to-the-wall rock music. Further, John Cameron Mitchell’s vocals as Hedwig are incredible, and the rock score to this movie belongs up there with the best albums of all time.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is by far the greatest movie musical in my opinion. Not only that, it is an example of an adaptation justifying its own existence. Often films are adapted solely for commercial value and, especially when it comes to stage-to-screen adaptations, the film version can just be an identical copy transplanted onto screen. Hedwig makes necessary changes, often cutting high quality parts, in order for it to work in a cinematic setting.

The role of Hedwig is typically considered to be one of the toughest in the musical theatre canon. Hedwig is played here by John Cameron Mitchell, but has also been played by Neil Patrick Harris, Ally Sheedy, Michael C. Hall, Andrew Rannells, and many more. The beauty of the role is that it is written in a way that it can be played by anyone, regardless of gender, race, shape or size. That is what the movie represents: it is about self-discovery, which is a universal struggle and the freedom of its casting often conveys that.

With Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell has written, directed, and starred in a film that was not only inventive and ahead of its time, but will still be relevant in a hundred years. This film speaks directly to the struggles faced by many LGBT+ people about discovering their identity and true self, but there is also a universality that transcends that. Simply put, this is a film that everyone needs to see.

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