Angels in America
Angels in America is surprising in how it overcomes a facile ending and some ridiculously silly sequences (angels wrestling with each other) to remain generally moving and intimate. Emma Thompson’s dual performances as an angel and a NooYawk nurse were hammy, but Pacino and Justin Kirk, as the dumped AIDS infected lover walking around in Obi-Wan garb, make the 6 hours worth it, overblown or not. It’s nice to see Mary Louise Parker absolutely lose it as well.
I was thinking about this mini-series recently, because I noticed that Mike Nichols has entered the Altman stage of his career. After the disastrous experience of Popeye, he decided to go smaller, and adapt stage plays, which were both lower in budget and less likely to be interfered with by producers. So he put out Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Streamers, Secret Honor, Fool For Love, and Basements (based on Pinter’s works, made for ABC), to get his focus on characters and people in general back, as opposed to broad comedy aimed at a mass audience.
Nichols, after the failure of What Planet Are You From?, made Wit and Angels in America for HBO and Closer, all three adapted from plays, all three rather ambitious in their own way. Wit is the best of the three, the most concise, least messy, despite it being mostly a direct address monologue. The same is true of Secret Honor and Altman, with Phillip Baker Hall’s fantastic ranting and raving as Nixon in a 90 minute monologue, one of the best films of his career. Whether or not Nichols, who started with a play adaptation in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, continues in this vein, before wanting to expand to more movieish material is up to him, but then, so is the greater risk. If a play adaptation doesn’t make money and/or doesn’t work, it’s expected, and can be blamed on the material being unadaptable. The fact that Closer did relatively well is entirely about the star casting, and not the strength of the material. If Six Degrees of Separation were released today (a much better play and film than Closer), it would make $50-60 million.