Recently, my wife and I have been catching up on Supernatural before the final season airs this year. One of the primary bad guys in Season 14 was the archangel, Michael, who isn’t a good guy. Then again, there’s rarely a defined good or evil in the TV show, as everyone from the human, devil, and angel community define their own destiny. Even God’s own motivation is often put into question…but, we’re not here to talk about Supernatural. We’re here to look at another interpretation of Michael, and that is in the 1996 film starring Johnny Travolta. I don’t care that he doesn’t go by Johnny, okay?! I like it better that way , okay!?
Frank Quinlan and Huey Driscoll, two reporters from a Chicago-based tabloid, along with Dorothy Winters, an ‘angel expert’, are asked to travel to rural Iowa to investigate a claim from an old woman that she shares her house with a real, live archangel named Michael. Upon arrival, they see that her claims are true – but Michael is not what they expected: he smokes, drinks beer, has a very active libido and has a rather colorful vocabulary. In fact, they would never believe it were it not for the two feathery wings protruding from his back. Michael agrees to travel to Chicago with the threesome, but what they don’t realize is that the journey they are about to undertake will change their lives forever.IMDb
I don’t know if it’s how 1996 films were made, if it’s the way Travolta’s movies were made, or a combination of the two, but once again, there is a warmth to the way Michael feels. Just like Travolta’s Phenomenon, also released in 1996, Michael feels like home. Despite any technical things the film may get wrong, the movie feels spectacularly human and down-to-earth, like another part of the family. It’s this feel-good atmosphere that can easily make the audience a fan of the movie and have people returning for repeat viewings.
A huge part of the film is dedicated to building connections between the characters and healing wounds. So, while a big portion of the film is light-hearted and humorous with an unconventional angel, there is a light of warmth and knowing nature behind Travolta’s eyes, which solidifies the heart of the film, which was clearly the intent behind what they were going for. Travolta undoubtedly nails his character, regardless on how fake his wings look. It’s the other characters, on the other hand, that I don’t really care for. While I do enjoy the acting of John Hurt and Andie MacDowell, their characters have little independent importance or memorable traits. They are along for the ride, but that’s all you can really say about them. MacDowell’s character has a poetic soul that’s constantly writing lyrics down in a pad she keeps handy, which helps her character a little, but it’s not enough for the audience to remember after the film ends.
Another problem I found in the film was…these characters were way too quick to believe that Michael was an archangel. Sure, they work for a tabloid, but I refuse to believe journalists working at a tabloid are as gullible as their readers. As soon as they saw his fake-looking wings, they were convinced he was either a real angel or a human that has grown wings on his back. Never once do they consider the fake-looking wings could be fake, and attached to his suspenders…I guess that would ruin the movie magic or something? They didn’t have the budget to show the audience the close-up shots of how the wings are attached to the skin, so they just had to assume the audience would believe it if the characters did. Maybe in 1996, guys. Maybe in 1996. Not in 2019.
Also, the narrative of the film is lost on me. They decide to take Michael to Chicago with them, but as to why? I’m not entirely sure. To prove he’s an angel? It’s a newspaper/magazine…your pictures will look the same in Chicago as they would at the farm where they found Michael on, right? We all know going to Chicago was kind of Michael’s idea, but the other characters just go along with it, and when they think about it, the audience doesn’t really know why they’re doing this whole road trip thing in the first place. The more I think about it, the more I get confused and understand where RottenTomatoes got their rotten score of 38%. It really isn’t thought out very well because the writers wanted to instead focus on the heart of the film. That being said, I refuse to say the movie is bad because of it.
Personally, I find this film incredibly inspired and nostalgic. There is no doubt in my mind that Nora Ephron did exactly what she set out to do with Michael. It warms your heart the way that a few mid-’90s dramedys were able to do. Feel-good movies just don’t really work the same as they did back then, and for that, you gotta give the film credit. This may not be Travolta’s best work, but when thinking about the actor, I often do think about his older films, which actually includes Michael. Take that as you will.
TOTAL SCORE – 78%
Current 1996 Rankings:
Overall: 6th Place out of 17 Movies
Drama: 4th Place out of 9 Movies
Comedy: 3rd Place out of 8 Movies
Fantasy: 2nd Place out of 3 Movies
Current John Travolta Ranking:
6th Place out of 12 Movies
(1st place is Pulp Fiction)
PEOPLE SCORE (14/20)
Acting (2/4) | Characters (3/4) | Casting (3/4) | Importance (2/4) | Chemistry (4/4)
WRITING SCORE (8/10)
Dialogue (1/2) | Balance (1/2) | Story Depth (2/2) | Originality (2/2) | Interesting (2/2)
BEHIND-THE-SCENES SCORE (7/10)
Visuals (1/2) | Cinematography (1/2) | Editing (1/2) | Advertising (2/2) | Music & Sound (2/2)
NARRATIVE ARC SCORE (9/10)
Introduction (2/2) | Inciting Incident (2/2) | Obstacles (1/2) | Climax (2/2) | Resolution (2/2)
ENTERTAINMENT SCORE (5/10)
Rewatchability (2/2) | Fun Experience (2/2) | Impulse to Buy or Own (0/2) | Impulse to Talk About or Recommend (0/2) | Engaging & Riveting (1/2)
SPECIALTY SCORE (35/40)
John Travolta (10/10) | Dramedy (10/10) | Nora Ephron (5/10) | Halfway Decent (10/10)