Rated PG–language, sensual content
John Travolta as the angel Michael, with Sparky the miracle dog
With all the b-i-g Christmas releases just out, it was certainly a surprise that this turned out to be our favorite over other strong contenders like Evita and Ghosts of Mississippi. This is an irreverent but nonetheless charming recasting of the myth created by It's a Wonderful Life and TV's Highway to Heaven and Touched By An Angel. As the flip side of the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life, this is about an angel coming to earth for his last mission before losing his wings, rather than the last mission before gaining his wings. Both films perpetuate the decidedly nonbiblical concept that angels are a stage in human spiritual evolution.

Though Jean Stapleton's character, Pansy Milbank, says this Michael is the Archangel described in the Bible, and there are references to his engaging and defeating Beelzebub–Satan–in heroic battle, this last visit to earth is for a mission far more mundane than those exploits; it's to restore the hardened heart of a tabloid journalist named Quinlan (William Hurt). Quinlan and two co-workers, Dorothy (Andie MacDowell) and Huey (Robert Pastorelli) get the assignment of checking out the lead that there's a real angel living in the home of an Iowa motel operator (Pansy). Though Travolta's Michael is unsavory, he soon persuades his audiences, onscreen and in the theater, that he is a heavenly ambassador.

There's less talk of God in this film, ironically, than in the average episode of Highway to Heaven; no one ever asks about that highest link in Michael's chain of command. But there are some hints about the powers of angels and the plans of God that give the film a discernable underlying theology.

This is the first film since the decline of the Lassie craze, perhaps–or at least Sounder–that will have audiences crying over the death of a dog. It's also a romance, a comedy, and an all-around feel-good tear-jerker that rises above being cliched, which speaks highly for director Nora Ephron. This should find a place alongside her other classic, Sleepless in Seattle.


Photo by the film's distributor

1997, Jon Kennedy