Monday, August 08, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge: Follow My Voice (With the Music of Hedwig)

I was a huge fan of Hedwig and the Angry Inch during its original off Broadway run, and it remains one of my favorite musicals with some of my favorite songs. A couple of weeks ago I saw a production of it on a work trip - my first time seeing it onstage in over ten years - so when I was browsing my instant queue, Follow My Voice, with its picture of John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig on the cover, jumped out at me. It's another one I'd forgotten existed.

Follow My Voice is a very confused documentary, about a handful of kids at the Hetrick-Martin Institute's Harvey Milk School, an NYC public high school primarily for gay and lesbian kids, about the school itself, and about the making of an album of the songs from Hedwig benefiting the Institute.

As lovely as all those things are, at least two of them don't really make the same movie. And the two movies they do make...both kinda boring. The kids are super-sweet, but most of them are not terribly interesting. Don't get me wrong: All of them come off as nice and smart, and they have genuinely heartbreaking backstories, but watching their lives at Harvey Milk just isn't very compelling. I think I'm a reasonably interesting person but I wouldn't want to watch a movie about me either. In some ways I think the movie suffers from its lack of budget. Much of it is made up of video diary entries by the kids, and it looks like other sections were also shot by them and their friends on those same cameras. Their families are much discussed but (not surprisingly) not present in the film at all. In one scene we see the school talent show, and are told that one of the subjects, an MTF transexual, is going to sing Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," but then we don't get to hear her do it, I assume because they couldn't afford the rights. I get it, but it's weird to set up what probably would have been a very emotional moment and then not actually show that moment.

That said, the parallel story about putting together the Wig in a Box album pales in comparison to the legitimately hard lives the kids have had, and the attempts to match up the music with their stories come off as forced. There's some nice performance footage. Watching The Polyphonic Spree record "Wig in a Box" was fun, and setting a montage of the kids getting ready for prom was maybe obvious but totally delightful to watch. Other song choices were less inspired. I really liked the segment about the unconventionally beautiful girl with the burgeoning modeling career, but scoring it with "Origin of Love" was a stretch at best, a bizarre disconnect at worst. But I'm not made of stone. Setting graduation to Cyndi Lauper's rendition of "Midnight Radio,"* and the protests on the first day of the Harvey Milk School as a fully accredited high school to "Tear Me Down" are both geniusly manipulative, weep-inducing choices.

So, not a bad movie, but one that seems like maybe it didn't need to be made. I'd have been much more interested in a deeper look at the school and the Institute, and the struggles of its students. Instead of watching this film, go buy the album to hear some great songs and support a great cause.

*I was lucky enough to see Cyndi Lauper live a couple of years ago during one of her big gay "True Colors" tours, and during the encore she did "Midnight Radio" with surprise guest John Cameron Mitchell. I nearly wet myself. I was compelled to look it up on YouTube during that segment of the movie, so now you can wet yourself too!

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