Al Franken: God Spoke (2006) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for language and sexual humor
Running time: 83 min.
Cast: Al Franken, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Henry Kissinger, Ann Coulter, Norm Coleman, Bill O'Reilly, Alan Simpson, Jon Stewart
Director: Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus
Review published July 4, 2007
Comedian turned talk radio personality Al Franken announced that he would run against Republican Norm Coleman for his US Senate seat in Minnesota in 2007. This documentary, released almost a year before, sets up the possibility of a future political career for the satirist, pushing forward a more humanizing depiction of the man behind the scenes that works as a "testing the waters" release to see if there might be interest drummed up for a Senate bid. Its a doable proposition: Minnesota is the state that elected former pro wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura as governor -- as Al Franken once wrote regarding a presidential run in his book, "Why Not Me?," why not Al?
Staunch supporters of Franken will probably be the only group to find much merit in this very unfocused documentary, which plays like a bunch of randomly held together bits and pieces of Franken's life. It's like a lengthy reality show, without the sensationalism.
I've once read Al Franken's best-selling book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them", which features hilarious, pointed criticism of the pundit media, including TV personalities like Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity. When Franken is in attack mode, his mission is clear, concise, and erudite. When Franken is talking about things in general, or about himself, he is not as inspired, and I ended up not finishing the whole book. I like Al Franken's comedy. I even think he makes some very valid points about politics, the media, and religion. He is a funny man, and a heartfelt political thinker. Unfortunately, I've never really found him fascinating or charismatic enough to care to venture into learning about his personal life. Whenever he begins talking about himself, I find myself tuning out.
This is probably why I found this documentary about Franken and his life to be a mixed bag that offers only a few scenes of interest. As with his book, Franken's altercations with Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter spark the most interest. His dissecting of the misinformation pushed forward by Fox News is also quite poignant. If this were a film about nothing but the lies that media outlets try to push forward as facts, this would be a very winning documentary by a brilliant comedian. Alas, it's more about showcasing the comedian dealing with the things that annoy him, and these annoyances appear to be the only thing that drives him to eventually do what he is now doing: running for public office.
In between the incisive barbs, there is a great deal of footage of Franken dealing with his wife, his radio show staff, and rubbing elbows with people at the 2004 Republican National Convention. While these scenes aren't completely uninteresting, they aren't really set up with the proper context to truly appreciate their value. They also are in need of shrewd editing. I suppose at 80+ minutes, the lack of choice editing was primarily due to trying to beef up the run time to feature length to release as a marketable movie. In that manner, they succeed, but those looking for substance and shape to their documentary will grow increasingly restless as the movie's intent dissipates into Franken's musings regarding public office.
It's obvious that God Spoke has been made by people who support Franken and his political views, but if the intent on making the film had been to increase public awareness to Franken's thought on running for Senate, it doesn't really do him a good favor. Franken is funny and likeable most of the time, but he also comes across as petulant and sniveling when he doesn't get his way. His edgy humor may also be funny to him and those who know when he's kidding, but it's a bit bristly and acerbic at times, and it calls into question whether or not he has the disposition to weather the storm of public scorn and resentment should he find himself unable to effect the change he seeks were he to hold public office. In essence, he seems like he might implode when the going gets truly tough and the public turns against him. At least, that's how he comes across in this documentary.
The first introduction to Al Franken for many people alive during the 1970s had been on his stint on "Saturday Night Live", especially in the "Weekend Update" segments where he would push forward himself as someone to be admired and worshipped. Of course, this was done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, although, really, comedians deep down have a need to be loved, admired and accepted for their gifts to make people laugh. While those bits of vanity were mostly done for humor's sake, God Spoke is mostly vanity without the requisite irony to make such self-worship worthwhile for long.
It starts off well, with a "Ten Commandments" riff that sees Franken's interest in putting himself forward as something that God told him to do. Had the film stayed in this mode, rather than the self-flagellation that Franken commits for the last half hour, it would definitely make a better case for putting such a tenacious pit bull up there to battle the Conservative elements in government. God Spoke depicts Franken as too puppy dog to ever think of him as the pit bull that Liberals need to champion their cause.
©2007 Vince Leo