The Movie Binge

Review: Angel-A


When it comes to selecting a movie to watch, I have a complicated rubrick of criteria. It's a mix of the cast, the crew, the setting, the subject matter, sentimentality and buzz. I'm sure there are point values assigned in the deep, deep depths of my brain, but I couldn't retrieve them with all the peyote in the world. As an example, the equation for the new Pirates goes something like this: Johnny Depp (awesome) + Keira Knightley (hot) + Geoffrey Rush (duh) + tons of pirates (also duh) + a cute monkey (whee!) + positive memories of the first two = definitely won't miss it. The equation for Angel-A went: Jamel Debbouze (Amélie!) + Luc Besson (Two nuanced films, The Fifth Element and The Professional!) + some hot girl + French cinema - crappy buzz = I'm in, but my guard is up Luc. After all this internal math, the hope is that I've laid down $11 for a movie I'll enjoy seeing, but it doesn't always turn out that way. Before I start opining, let me tell you about the plot.

André is the sort of lowlife who prefers lies to the truth and can't get his act together any more than he can find time for a weekly shower. His ambitions are selfish and trite, but he has a sweet demeanor and that counts for something, right? After borrowing a metric ton of Euros from seedy characters, he's prepared to jump off a bridge when a beautiful, leggy vixen swoops down and distracts him from his suicide attempt. She has zero inhibitions and a seemingly weak moral fiber, but she's willing to do anything to help André get back on track. Her name is Angel-A and, sadly, her name is indicative of the plot's complexity.

From the moment Angel-A appears with her bleach blonde hair and nearly translucent complexion, you inevitably wonder if — or hope that, in my case — her role as an angel is purely metaphorical. For at least half the movie I was left wondering, which was obviously Besson's intention. While it was amusing to think that a woman with legs that go up to her pupik and a willingness to sleep with or punch anyone for cash would be an angel, this film was about an infantile adult learning to survive and was not an over-the-top Kevin Smith comedy (see: Salma Hayek as a muse in Dogma). So when it was revealed that Angel-A was indeed an angel, I began to question my rubrick of criteria.

Angel-A is a redemption film and it shouldn't matter who is helping the protagonist find his way, but it turned out that wasn't even her true intention. Once André began trusting her, we learned Angel-A had problems of her own. After some time, it was clear she just wanted to be loved. Her desire allowed André to ignore all of his newfound mantras of self-reliance and succumb to his infatuation. In other words, both characters failed to fulfill their central roles, but they had love and that should provide satisfaction enough. It was a lazy copout and a total disappointment.

While Angel-A had some of the nuance of Mathilda in The Professional, Besson ended the movie with a catch-all solution. I think my rubrick would have been more accurate if I had visited his IMDb page before the screening and seen that almost all of his work since The Fifth Element has been mindless action. Then I could have allocated a potential minus towards his ability to provide satisfying closure for a complex character.