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Film review: Angel Baby

Difficult to watch but with some strong emotional rewards most of the way, "Angel Baby" is a genuine "tough-love" movie.

You may want to love it, but it's going to be tough.

The central performances, however, by John Lynch of Ireland and Australian Jacqueline McKenzie, are uncompromisingly effective as they play a terribly dysfunctional couple in a doomed re-lationship.

The film is set in Australia, where Harry (Lynch) meets Kate (McKenzie) at "The Clubhouse," the nickname for a clinic where both are in therapy. They are mentally fragile people who have slash marks on their wrists but not much else in common.

Naturally, they fall madly in love.

Harry, who is whimsical and amusing when he's not a raving psychotic, has been living with the family of his concerned brother (Colin Friels) and sister-in-law (Deborra-Lee Furness). He also relies heavily on medication and group therapy to keep him going.

Kate lives alone in a hostel, where she has an even more tenuous grip on reality, with mood swings that are genuinely frightening. She also speaks with her guardian angel, an unseen spiritual being named "Astral," whom she believes is providing the answers to life through a "Wheel of Fortune"-type television program.

When Harry and Kate decide to move in together, things begin to get dicey. Blind to the difficulty of their situation, they set up housekeeping as if they are living in a '50s sitcom and hope for the best.

But when Kate becomes pregnant, more serious considerations loom. Never mind how the child will be raised; what about Kate's need to be medicated?

Ultimately, they decide to go off their prescribed pills cold turkey, and the usual cinematic descent into hell follows.

Much of the way, "Angel Baby" is an interesting variation on an overworked movie theme — the cute but mentally unstable couple that society doesn't understand. While attacking his story's themes a bit more realistically than most such films, writer-director Michael Rymer nonetheless overplays his hand.

He's best at depicting panic, whether it's through the actors' performances or his bag full of camera tricks. But things get muddled when he goes for comic irony. And when the couple's good intentions go awry, it is tragic (they are, after all, trying to rescue their baby from their fate), but his resolution rings false.

Still, if solid acting is what you're after, Lynch and McKenzie fill the bill. And then some.

"Angel Baby" is rated R for sex and nudity (and there's quite a bit of explicit material here), as well as profanity and drugs.