Angel of Anywhere

By James Kicklighter | Drama
An empathetic stripper plays therapist to damaged customers at the bar.

Angel works as an exotic dancer at the popular Anywhere Bar, where clients come looking for entertainment and escape from their everyday lives. He is the most popular stripper at the club and clearly knows his way around.

But there’s more to Angel than his good looks and smooth moves. When his clients get a private show in the VIP room, they don’t get a dance but something else: Angel’s ability to really listen and empathize, helping confront the troubles in their own lives.

One night, his VIP of the evening, Michelle, has a hard time loosening up, since it’s her first time at a place like Anywhere. Stuck in a marriage that feels inauthentic and insecure because she has to pretend to be someone else all the time, she finds herself opening up to Angel — and being herself for the first time in years.

Another time, Angel goes into the back with Brian, who seems confident and boisterous. His facade begins to crack under Angel’s open-mindedness and compassion, and he confesses the truth of his insecurity, lack of identity and the emptiness of his life. Once again, Angel gently points a client to a more whole, authentic way of being. But Angel himself will have a startling encounter, which may push him to evolve his mission.

This short drama, crafted by director James Kicklighter and writers Kate Murdoch and Casey Nelson, is initially about surfaces: about the gap between them and reality, and about how the expectations we create from surfaces often don’t do justice to what’s underneath.

Though the environs of the Anywhere Bar are shot with a luminous, almost glamorously slick lighting and sleek camerawork, the film isn’t a thriller or neo-noir. Instead, it privileges compassion over prurience, and reveals itself to be a warmhearted story about finding empathy and understanding in unexpected places.

The central character of Angel, of course, is much more than what he seems. He has handsome good looks, a well-maintained physique and sensuous dance moves that draw attention at Anywhere. But he also has a gentle, humble kindness and ease with himself that makes him comfortable to be around, both for the story’s other characters and the audience.

The writing takes great care in building his character, whether it’s his willingness and patience in fixing the constantly breaking equipment or his warmly offered advice to a newcomer, and actor Axel Roldos plays Angel with a subtle watchfulness and almost Zen sensitivity.

The storytelling also offers some of its strongest scenes with the VIPs that flit through Angel’s work, and the private room becomes a place where they can look at their lives with honesty — with the help of Angel, who offers them non-judgment, a willingness to listen and thoughtful responses.

One of the strengths of “Angel of Anywhere” is how it creates an atmosphere around the Anywhere Bar, endowing it with an almost otherworldly aura that gives its clients and the audience a sense that the rules of daytime lives don’t apply and anything can happen. The last thing that Anywhere’s patrons expect, though, is an epiphany about life and self.

Angel gets his own epiphany with the film’s zinger of an ending, which may push him to move onto a new arena to practice his skills as a counselor and therapist. But the audience gets the sense that wherever he ends up, he’ll put as much care and compassion into the world as he did at the Anywhere Bar — showing how anyone can make a difference in the world, no matter who they are or what they do.

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