Tony Kushner, behind round-rimmed glasses, is so assuredly charismatic throughout Freida Lee Mock’s documentary portrait that an admission that he finds writing painfully difficult almost seems incongruous. It’s hard to intuit doubt from this steady, admiring treatment of the leftist activist playwright. Divided into three acts and an epilogue, Wrestling With Angels opens under the heading “As a Citizen of the World After September 11, 2001.” Kushner recounts flying home from a beach in Ireland and entering Manhattan in a taxicab. The driver, seeing him weep, begins to weep too. It’s a chain of sympathy taken for granted in the film (friend and collaborator Oskar Eustis shows up speaking of the equivalent feeling used for theater work and democracy).
The outlook manages to be a romantic one: The film’s both soothing—as an act of recording promise—and churningly emotive. Kushner came out at 20 after being granted “permission” through psychotherapy. His father, a temperate presence, speaks of sharing typical masculine activities with the child Tony—like bird-watching, which is “hunting without hurting anything.” Benefiting from footage of Kushner works and appearances by figures like Larry Kramer, George C. Wolfe, and Meryl Streep, the film feels unbounded by its time frame (the World Trade Center attacks through the 2004 election). Its subject, who declares that he wants to be a popular entertainer, is large and continuous.