Director Nora Ephron, whose forte is romantic comedy, takes a slightly different tack with this comedy/drama, which is certainly romantic, but with a bit of a twist; because this one relies somewhat on divine intervention as the means by which some people who have seemingly lost their way are finally steered in the right direction. Or `a' direction, at least; for when it comes to life and love, who really knows? And the real question is, does it make a difference if you believe in angels? A possible answer lies in Ephron's entertaining and ultimately touching film, `Michael,' in which she asks you to be a believer; and if you can, it'll loose the magic upon the screen and you'll be treated to a satisfying cinematic experience, courtesy of Ephron's insights into human nature and a guy who just may or may not be one of those most ecclesiastical of creatures, an angel.
When Frank Quinlan (William Hurt), a reporter for a national tabloid based in Chicago, gets a letter from a woman in Iowa named Pansy Milbank (Jean Stapleton), who claims that an angel has been living with her for the past six months, Frank's editor, Vartan Malt (Bob Hoskins), dispatches him forthwith to the woman's residence, the Milk Bottle Inn (which she owns), to check it out. Accompanying him is fellow reporter Huey Driscoll (Robert Pastorelli), and a newcomer to the team, Dorothy Winters (Andie MacDowell), who is supposedly an `expert' on angels. What they expect to find when they get there is anybody's guess, but if it's someone with a halo and the proverbial `inner light,' they are about to be sorely disappointed; because when they finally meet Michael (John Travolta, complete with wings-- but are they real?), he's, well, as Michael tells them right off, himself, `I'm not that kind of angel--' And for Frank, Dorothy and Huey, it's the beginning of a journey of sorts, as they endeavor to take Michael back to Chicago with them, hoping to learn all they can about him along the way. But, more importantly, learning some things about themselves-- and each other-- at the same time.
By due process and by citing previous works of excellence-- like `Sleepless In Seattle' and `You've Got Mail'-- Ephron can stake a claim to the territorial rights of Matters-of-the-Heart stories and win, hands down. Wry and subtle observations on love and relationships are her trademark; she knows how to make her characters and situations credible, and moreover, how to present it all in such a way that it makes a real connection with her audience. She makes it look easy, but make no mistake, there's a fine art to what she does. The fact that she can not only entertain, but touch her audiences in film after film, clearly demonstrates that she's got what it takes to create and deliver a movie with some real substance, coated as it may be with some light-hearted sentiment (just call it the icing on the cake, if you will). And a big part of her success comes from knowing what makes her characters tick, and making them people with whom the audience can identify and relate. Even when the story is a little bit quirky and just slightly off-center, as is the case with this film.
John Travolta as an angel? Well, make that an `Arch'angel, and not just any old Archangel; this is Michael, the very same angel who fought Beelzebub and cast him (so he claims) from Heaven. And, as embodied by Travolta, this is Michael, the warrior, who exists to do battle with any enemy and put matters to right-- and Travolta makes it work by creating an `angel' like none you've ever seen before. His Michael is rather unkempt and slovenly, he smokes and has a penchant for sugar. He also likes to laugh and dance, and he appreciates the wonders and the beauty of the earth. Whoever he is, there's a depth of humanity there, which Travolta manages to bring to the fore of what turns out to be a rather complex and challenging character. It's a solid performance by the charismatic Travolta, who makes Michael a truly memorable character, and in turn, a memorable film.
Hurt does a good job, as well, as the jaded Frank Quinlan, a guy obviously looking for something, but unaware of what it is, or even that he is, in fact, searching. Hurt successfully captures the laconic essence at the heart of his character, but tempers him with just enough spirit to keep him interesting, and a person who, though not necessarily likable, is one you come to feel is at least salvageable as a human being. In the end, he actually becomes someone you can root for, though initially Frank is rather off-putting. The important thing is, Hurt presents Frank in a way that touches a nerve, and it demonstrates that connection Ephron makes with the audience through her characters.
MacDowell gives a strong performance, too, though rather retiring and less than spirited; but then again, that's who her character is, and she plays it quite well. Dorothy, like Frank, is a person at a crossroads; the difference is, she's lost and she knows it-- and it gives her an endearing quality that gains the sympathy of the audience, and makes her someone for whom you want to see things work out.
The supporting cast includes Teri Garr (Judge Newberg), Joey Lauren Adams (Anita), Carla Gugino (Bride), Tom Hodges (Groom) and Wallace Langham (Bruce). In the end, whether or not this film makes you believe in angels is a moot point, because `Michael' is an engaging film that reaffirms the indomitability of the human spirit. And, if not angels, that is something everyone can believe in, or at least hope for. It's Nora Ephron's way of saying that this old world is going to be around for awhile. And it's good. It is, in fact, the magic of the movies. I rate this one 8/10.
7 out of 10 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.