City of Angels (1998)

reviewed by
Homer Yen

Stephen, please post if appropriate. Thanks.

"City of Angels" Earns Its Wings
by Homer Yen
(c) 1998

Tender and light-hearted, "City of Angels" is a romantic comedy about angelic Seth (Nicholas Cage) who develops an earthly interest in an amazingly aware and vibrant doctor (Meg Ryan). As it turns out, angels have always been among us but choose not to be seen. Depicted in the film as human-looking, black full-length coat wearing men and women, angels follow us, perch themselves atop high structures to solemnly reflect humanity, and can read everyone's thoughts. They can provide a dose of calmness when we are in despair or are our escorts to heaven when we pass away. However, most angels lack ambition and curiosity, and they spend their existence watching over others in a trance-like state. Seth, however, is curious and wonders if there is more to his existence.

His curiosity is further fueled when he meets the doctor, Maggie Rice. During a tricky operation, she begins to lose her patient. After failing to resuscitate him, she becomes distraught, and questions her ability to save lives. Turning to her colleague and pseudo-boyfriend, she wonders, "who are we fighting against?" Is there more to her existence?

The setting is now ripe for the two to meet. Making himself visible, he takes the time to explore Maggie's world and the wonders of life as seen through her eyes. Poetic and stately, he impresses her with his sense of curiosity. As Maggie relishes every bite of her favorite fruit, Seth quietly says, "I don't know what that pear tastes like to you. Describe it as Hemmingway would." Meanwhile, he is taken aback by her effervescence and lust for life. They begin to grow close, but as an angel, he knows nothing about matters of the heart because he can not feel. He confides his confusion to fellow angel Cassiel (Andre Braugher), and also learns more about what love is from a hospital patient (Dennis Franz) who has an uncanny understanding of his situation. But with love comes sacrifice. What can Seth do?

The real treat of this movie is Ryan's sunny disposition and radiance. As she falls in love with Seth, all sorts of questions begin to arise for her. Are you married? Are you homeless? Are you a drummer? Why do you always where the same clothes? She knows how to convey her doe-eyed confusion, especially in a scene where she begins to learn his true nature, which is bittersweet and funny. In the kitchen, Seth seemingly slices off his finger, but Maggie notices that there is no blood. She is about to be thrust into the unknown...much like any new relationship.

The script and presentation works in allowing us to connect with our own questions of mortality and reminds us to appreciate the things that we take for granted. Remember to savor each bite and to let the sun bask your face in its warmth. Remember to appreciate the touch of someone you love and to let the cool ocean waves stimulate your body. City of Angels is a purposeful and touching story that looks at two people who represent two elements that frequently remains a mystery to many...that of life and love.

Grade: B

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