Movie Review: Al Franken: God Spoke
Overall, I enjoyed Al Franken: God Spoke, but it already had a couple of things working in it’s favor before I sat down to watch it:
1) I already like Al. That wasn’t always true. Not that I ever disliked him, but I perhaps didn’t get his humor until he reinvented himself as one of the country’s top political humorists. Although Al had a long history with Saturday Night Live, he’s not really a comedian. He’s more of a good storyteller who knows when to throw in a good joke. I also don’t have the opportunity to listen to his daily radio show on Air America, but I did for awhile when the station launched and I liked that. And I’ve also read several of his books, particularly the last two: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them and The Truth (With Jokes), both of which are great.
2) I already identify myself as a “liberal.” Actually, I think of myself of a “progressive” and I like that word better, but I’m basically a pretty liberal person. And if you dig down into my movie review archives on the Underground Film Journal, you’ll see that for a period a good many of them are political commentaries from a progressive standpoint rather than actual movie reviews. But when I relaunched about a year ago, I thought I’d stop doing that and stick to just writing about movies and comic books, and sometimes regular books.
3) I prefer cinema verite documentaries, of which God Spoke is one, over “traditional” sit-down interview ones. God Spoke simply follows Al around for several months and we learn about him through his actions and interactions with other people, rather than him telling us who he is or have other people tell us for him. The film never makes fully clear what the time frame here is — and that’s one of my issues with it — but I assume filming started sometime in 2003 and ended probably in 2005. So it covers the 2003 release of Lies, the 2004 launch of Air America, the 2004 election and Al’s thoughts about the future, which may include a run for the Senate in Minnesota against Norm Coleman.
So, with these three things going into it, it would have been hard for me to dislike the film. I did have a couple of issues with the movie, however. My main issue is that since God Spoke covers such a long period of time, it’s forced to gloss over a couple of details that may not detract from Al’s storyline, but leave the film feeling a little disjointed. An example of this is that a couple of weeks, or maybe it was months, after Air America launched, the station had a financial crisis and was on the verge of going out of business quickly. While that aspect of the event is covered in God Spoke, the film doesn’t explain at all how Air America recovered from that difficult period, which I thought was odd. I also would have liked to have seen more about Al’s trips to Iraq to perform for the troops, something that I think is very interesting, but barely covered.
But, as I write this and I can tell you all the great things about the film, including one of the best jokes ever that Al tells about a penis growing out of a man’s forehead, I still feel hesitant to write that this is a great or even a really good film. It is, to me. However, I can’t stop thinking what other people who may not be familiar with Al or who don’t agree with his political positions will think about God Spoke. I’m not quite sure why I care or feel the need to include disclaimers.
God Spoke isn’t really a political film, even though Al talks and jokes about politics a lot. He isn’t the kind of person to cram his own ideas down other people’s throats. The main thrust of his humor comes at poking holes in other commentators or politicians statements. And Al really comes across as a very likeable person. In one extended sequence, Al attends a party held for conservative politicians where he makes the observation: “Celebrity trumps politics.” Al, with his folksy Midwestern charm, is seen getting along with the very Senators he takes to task on the radio. He even takes a moment to do his impression of Henry Kissinger to Kissinger himself, who takes the gesture in very good humor.
For Al Franken fans, God Spoke is a very funny profile. I just hope the film can help him gain him even more fans because from what I’ve seen, he deserves them.