Michael (1996) poster

Michael (1996)


USA. 1996.


Director – Nora Ephron, Screenplay – Peter Dexter, Delia Ephron, Nora Ephron & Jim Quinlan, Story – Peter Dexter & Jim Quinlan, Producers – Sean Daniel, Nora Ephron & James Jacks, Photography – John Lindley, Music – Randy Newman, Visual Effects – Sony Pictures Imageworks (Supervisors – Ken Ralston & Stephen Rosenbaum), Special Effects Supervisor – David Blitstein, Animatronics – Amalgamated Dynamics (Supervisors – Alec Gillis & Tom Woodruff Jr), Production Design – Dan Davis. Production Company – Turner Pictures/Alphaville/New Line Cinema.


John Travolta (Michael), William Hurt (Frank Quinlan), Andie McDowell (Dorothy Winters), Robert Pastorelli (Huey Driscoll), Bob Hoskins (Vartan Malt), Jean Stapleton (Pansy Milbank)


Tabloid editor Vartan Malt assigns down-and-out journalist Frank Quinlan, along with job applicant Dorothy Winters, who quickly claims expertise on the subject, to write a story on Iowa motelier Pansy Milbank who claims she has an angel staying with her. When they arrive, they find that Pansy’s claim is legitimate and meet Michael who does indeed prove to be an angel. However, Michael is not very angel-like – a smoker, a slob and an over-eater. He agrees to accompany them back by road. As the journey progresses, Frank and Dorothy discover that Michael’s purpose there has been to bring them together.

This angel fantasy comes from Nora Ephron. Ephron had had enormous success with the likeable but banal light romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle (1993). This launched her name as a Chick Flick director, although her work subsequently has meandered with miserable flops like Mixed Nuts (1994) and the successful but infuriatingly maudlin internet romance You’ve Got Mail (1998) and forgettable fluff like Lucky Numbers (2000).

Michael‘s principal idea is in casting John Travolta as an angel that is less than angel-like – a slob who smokes, overeats and has irresistible appeal to women. Not unakin to the film itself, it is half an idea that gets a less than inspired treatment. Like the road journey that takes up its plot, the film is mostly a series of stops through rather uninspired landscape to visit some oddly amusing but not terribly interesting sights. The film comes across as aimless – it has only a vague sense of direction to its plot and tries to compensate with an amiable good-naturedness that is far too laidback by half.

John Travolta as the angel Michael (1996)
John Travolta as the angel Michael

The romance that is meant to be the central plot takes a backseat to the meandering road journey where Nora Ephron is forever drifting off into little set-pieces – John Travolta’s visits to the world’s largest frying pan and ball of twine, taking a bull on in head-to-head combat, games of car bingo, fights, songs and dances in various bars – most of which are conducted with a quizzical sense of humour that Ephron clearly thinks is far more hilarious than it actually is. The romance is incredibly predictable and holds no surprises at all.

What seems incredible is that such an aimless, shapeless and non-scripted film managed to get off the ground at all. It feels exactly like a vehicle that has been concocted as an agent’s deal and sold on the basis of its star names. Substitute no-name stars and try to imagine Michael getting the major release that it did.

Nora Ephron later returned to the fantasy genre with Bewitched (2005), a cinematic remake of the popular 1960s tv sitcom.

Trailer here

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