But Is It Funny?

Dale Peck at Slate offers the best critical reading of HBO’s Angels that I’ve found. He points out something that has bothered me a bit as well: the film just isn’t very funny. Which is a shame, because the play is really funny. Unlike so many of the TV critics who have offered their half-informed opinions over the last few weeks, Peck also understands the theatrical traditions from which the plays emerged and against which they so forcefully reacted. This is just good stuff:

Ultimately, though, the real problem is that Angels is and remains a play, not a movie. It is deliberately, powerfully anachronistic in its approach to narrative, updating–one wants to say outing–the mid-century work of Williams and Albee. Though Nichols labors doggedly at filling in the spaces even the most lavish theatrical productions leave blank, his sets come across as cluttered, unnuanced, unnecessary; his frequent angel-eye perspectives seem thrown in just, you know, because. In particular, the addition of New York City vistas, the panoramas and facades left out of the play’s backdrops, seem shuffled in from a mismatched deck. That’s because Angels, even more than most plays, is steeped in conversation, soliloquy, the linguistic pursuit of ideas. Its characters interact with each other, not their environment, because (as the subtitle reminds us) the play is a fantasia: There is something internal and not quite real about it.

I also like his conclusion:

Whether you regard capitalism as the thing that will save the world or the thing that will destroy it, the marketplace has proven capable of assimilating gay male notions of masquerade, subterfuge, and subversion without itself being subverted by them. By which I mean that there was a George Bush as president when Kushner first wrote Angels, and there is a George Bush as president now. By which I mean that perhaps it isn’t the movie that doesn’t do the play justice, it’s the times. By which I mean, finally, that as soon as I finished watching Angels, the only thing I could think of doing was watching it again because I wanted it to have another chance.