ANGEL BABY (director/writer: Michael Rymer; cinematography: Ellery Ryan; editor: Dany Cooper; cast: John Lynch (Harry Goodman), Jacqueline McKenzie (Kate), Colin Friels (Morris Goodman), Deborra-Lee Furness (Louise Goodman), Daniel Daperis (Sam Goodman), Robyn Nevin (Dr. Norberg); Runtime: 104; Cinepix Film Properties; 1995-Australia)

“A heartfelt Australian romance story about a mentally ill couple…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A heartfelt Australian romance story about a mentally ill couple, which won seven Australian Academy Awards including best picture, actor, actress and director. This film offers a piercing look at love between Harry (Lynch) and Kate (McKenzie), who meet while attending therapy sessions at a rehab day-clinic for the mentally disturbed.

The engaging young adult couple quickly get to know one another and enter into a sexually active relationship. Harry is a bachelor who is recovering from hearing voices. He has his own room in his brother Morris’ (Colin) house, which includes his brother’s wife Louise (Furness) and their young son Sam (Daperis). Kate was raped by her father at a young age and removed from the family, and is also suffering from schizophrenia. She now lives alone in a hostel, where her only outside interest is religiously watching the TV show “Wheel of Fortune.” Kate’s life is guided by omens, which she receives from her guardian angel named Astral. Astral communicates with her as the letters are turned over during the “Wheel of Fortune” and the phrases are revealed. Later on, Kate will first learn of her pregnancy, as the letters spelled out are “Great Expectations.”

The couple struggles against the odds of them living together on their own and making it, as they get their own apartment getting support from his concerned brother and from the staff members at the clinic. The lovers seem to be made for each other, each depending on the other for support. There are many magnificent scenes of them showing their love for each other in a sensitive and witty way, also showing how fragile and insecure they are.

Things change when Harry lies about his mental illness in order to get a computer job, and she announces as soon as he lands the job that she is pregnant. The rehab staff is concerned about how they will manage to take care of a baby and about how she is handling her pregnancy, as she refuses to see an obstetrician; Morris also doesn’t think they can manage alone, and wishes they reconsider having the baby.

Without telling anyone the couple stops taking their medication. They believe that by not taking the medicine the baby, whom Kate believes is Astral himself, won’t be infected with their illness. There is a brilliant scene in the department store at the mall where they are buying gifts for their expected child and are told the item is on sale but since the original price fits the “Wheel of Fortune” phrase, they insist on paying full price. But the confused store clerk refuses the higher price, saying they must buy the item at the sale price. This throws the couple into a panic, as the store-manager is called. The director shows how the outsiders only seem to harm them, even when they are trying to be fair with them and offer them sound advice. Kate becomes completely unwound in the store as a speeding rollerblader knocks her over while she was waiting for Harry to resolve things with the manager and she starts to bleed, which causes her to become hysterical. You can rest assured that this is not going to be a clich√© movie about the mentally ill.

At home Kate locks herself in the bathroom, after ransacking the apartment. When Morris, who is worried about how they are getting on, comes over to visit he ends up calling the police after seeing that something is wrong. Kate will be locked up in the mental hospital, where she is heavily sedated against her will. To make matters worst, even though Harry is working out satisfactorily in his job he is fired, as his boss explains to him that he is worried about what his customers would think if they found out about his condition. Everything is spiraling downward for the couple and they can’t seem to get a break; even though the people in their lives are not ogres and mean well in a rational way, but they are not connecting with the couple.

This is a sensitive film. The director-writer, Rymer, makes sure that our sympathies lie entirely with the struggling couple without making the outsiders into monsters. Its beauty lies in how honestly the story is told and in showing how difficult it is to find love and then lose it through something you have no control over. It’s an absorbing film, that is well-acted and directed, but it is not a film that you might care to remember. It lacked real affection for the couple, as they seemed forced down our throats instead of being allowed to grow gradually on us. Having pity for them, is not the same as really caring for them.